The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,[nb 5] commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) and Britain, is a sovereign state located off the north-western coast of continental Europe. The country includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another state—the Republic of Ireland.[nb 6] Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean in the west and north, the North Sea in the east, the English Channel in the south and the Irish Sea in the west.
The UK's form of government is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system and its capital city is London. It consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.The latter three have devolved administrations, each with varying powers,based in their capital cities, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast respectively. Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man are Crown dependencies and are not part of the UK. The United Kingdom has fourteen British Overseas Territories. These are remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land surface and was the largest empire in history. British influence can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies.
Settlement by anatomically modern humans of what was to become the United Kingdom occurred in waves beginning by about 30,000 years ago. By the end of the region's prehistoric period, the population is thought to have belonged, in the main, to a culture termed Insular Celtic, comprising Brythonic Britain and Gaelic Ireland. The Roman conquest, beginning in 43 AD, and the 400-year rule of southern Britain, was followed by an invasion by Germanic Anglo-Saxon settlers, reducing the Brythonic area mainly to what was to become Wales. Most of the region settled by the Anglo-Saxons became unified as the Kingdom of England in the 10th century. Meanwhile, Gaelic-speakers in north west Britain (with connections to the north-east of Ireland and traditionally supposed to have migrated from there in the 5th century) united with the Picts to create the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century.
The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 243,610 square kilometres (94,060 sq mi). The country occupies the major part of the British Isles archipelago and includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland and some smaller surrounding islands. It lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea with the south-east coast coming within 35 kilometres (22 mi) of the coast of northern France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. In 1993 10% of the UK was forested, 46% used for pastures and 25% used for agriculture. The Royal Greenwich Observatory in London is the defining point of the Prime Meridian.
The United Kingdom is a unitary state under a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of the UK as well as of fifteen other independent Commonwealth countries. The monarch has "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn". The United Kingdom is one of only four countries in the world to have an uncodified constitution.[nb 8] The Constitution of the United Kingdom thus consists mostly of a collection of disparate written sources, including statutes, judge-made case law and international treaties, together with constitutional conventions. As there is no technical difference between ordinary statutes and "constitutional law", the UK Parliament can perform "constitutional reform" simply by passing Acts of Parliament, and thus has the political power to change or abolish almost any written or unwritten element of the constitution. However, no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change.
The UK has a partially regulated market economy. Based on market exchange rates the UK is today the sixth-largest economy in the world and the third-largest in Europe after Germany and France, having fallen behind France for the first time in over a decade in 2008. HM Treasury, led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is responsible for developing and executing the British government's public finance policy and economic policy. The Bank of England is the UK's central bank and is responsible for issuing notes and coins in the nation's currency, the pound sterling. Banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland retain the right to issue their own notes, subject to retaining enough Bank of England notes in reserve to cover their issue. Pound sterling is the world's third-largest reserve currency (after the U.S. Dollar and the Euro). Since 1997 the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, headed by the Governor of the Bank of England, has been responsible for setting interest rates at the level necessary to achieve the overall inflation target for the economy that is set by the Chancellor each year.
Science and technology
England and Scotland were leading centres of the Scientific Revolution from the 17th century and the United Kingdom led the Industrial Revolution from the 18th century, and has continued to produce scientists and engineers credited with important advances. Major theorists from the 17th and 18th centuries include Isaac Newton, whose laws of motion and illumination of gravity have been seen as a keystone of modern science, from the 19th century Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution by natural selection was fundamental to the development of modern biology, and James Clerk Maxwell, who formulated classical electromagnetic theory, and more recently Stephen Hawking, who has advanced major theories in the fields of cosmology, quantum gravity and the investigation of black holes. Major scientific discoveries from the 18th century include hydrogen by Henry Cavendish, from the 20th century penicillin by Alexander Fleming, and the structure of DNA, by Francis Crick and others.
The UK's de facto official language is English. It is estimated that 95% of the UK's population are monolingual English speakers. 5.5% of the population are estimated to speak languages brought to the UK as a result of relatively recent immigration. South Asian languages, including Bengali, Tamil, Punjabi, Hindi and Gujarati, are the largest grouping and are spoken by 2.7% of the UK population. According to the 2011 census, Polish has become the second largest language spoken in England and has 546,000 speakers.
Forms of Christianity have dominated religious life in what is now the United Kingdom for over 1,400 years. Although a majority of citizens still identify with Christianity in many surveys, regular church attendance has fallen dramatically since the middle of the 20th century, while immigration and demographic change have contributed to the growth of other faiths, most notably Islam. This has led some commentators to variously describe the UK as a multi-faith, secularised, or post-Christian society.
Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter, with each country having a separate education system.Whilst education in England is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Education, the day-to-day administration and funding of state schools is the responsibility of local authorities. Universally free of charge state education was introduced piecemeal between 1870 and 1944. Education is now mandatory from ages five to sixteen (15 if born in late July or August). In 2011, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) rated 13–14 year old pupils in England and Wales 10th in the world for maths and 9th for science. The majority of children are educated in state-sector schools, a small proportion of which select on the grounds of academic ability.
Travel Places in United Kingdom:
- Windsor Castle - The Royal Family's Weekend Bolt Hole
- Stonehenge - A Mysterious Presence on the Salisbury Plain
- Snowdonia - Deep Glacial Valleys and Some of the Oldest Rocks on Earth
- Hadrian's Wall - The Northern Border of the Roman Empire
- Romans in the UK - Excavations at Vindolanda, along Hadrian's Wall