United Kingdom of England, Wales and CornwallTimeline: Differently
Dieu et mon droit (French)
"God and my right"
"God Save the Queen"
(and largest city)
|Other languages||Welsh, Cornish|
|Government||Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy|
|-||Prime-Minister||Edward John Izzard|
|Legislature||Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|-||Upper house||House of Lords|
|-||Lower house||House of Commons|
|-||Total|| 162,418 km2
62,710 sq mi
|Currency||Pound sterling (GBP) (£)|
The United Kingdom of England, Wales and Cornwall, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is an insular country off the northwestern coast of Europe. It is the home Commonwealth realm and the seat of the Commonwealth monarch.
The country is located in the southern part of the island of Great Britain and a northern portion of the island of Ireland. Its territory in Great Britain is bordered by Scotland to the north and bounded by the North Sea on the east, the Irish Sea on the west and the English Channel on the south. It has maritime border with Republic of Ireland bounded by the Irish Sea on the east and the North Channel on the north. Its surface area of 162,418 square kilometers makes it the 13th-largest country in Europe and the 78th-largest in the world. With a population of over 60.3 million inhabitants, it is the fifth-most populous country in Europe and the 26th in the world.
Britain is a sovereign union of three separate states: England, Wales and Cornwall. It is an English-speaking parliamentary monarchy under King Richard V. It has minority speakers of Celtic languages (Welsh, Cornish, Irish and Manx).
Throughout history, the United Kingdom has been a very influential nation, having colonised many regions of the world, especially in Africa and the Americas. All of these locations were decolonised until the late 20th century. Until very recently, the nation of Scotland was part of the union, but it seceded after a referendum that took place in 2014, with the independence of Scotland occurring the following year. Ireland was also part of the United Kingdom until it seceded in 1921 with the Irish War of Independence.
The United Kingdom is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Etymology and terminology
The Acts of Union 1707 declared that the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland were "United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain". The term "United Kingdom" has occasionally been used as a description for the former kingdom of Great Britain, although its official name from 1707 to 1800 was simply "Great Britain". The Acts of Union 1800 united the kingdom of Great Britain and the kingdom of Ireland in 1801, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Following the the independence of the Irish Free State in 1922, the name was changed to the "United Kingdom of Great Britain". The current name was adopted following Scottish Independence.
Although the United Kingdom is a sovereign country, England, Wales and Cornwall are also widely referred to as countries. The UK Prime Minister's website has used the phrase "countries within a country" to describe the United Kingdom. Some statistical summaries, such as those for the twelve NUTS 1 regions of the United Kingdom refer to Wales and Cornwall as "regions".
The United Kingdom is a unitary state under a constitutional monarchy. King Richard V is the monarch and head of state of the UK, as well as 8 other Commonwealth realms. The monarch has "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn". The Constitution of the United Kingdom is uncodified and 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. No Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change.
The UK is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. The Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign. It is made up of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Crown. The main business of Parliament takes place in the two houses, but royal assent is required for a bill to become an Act of Parliament (law).
For general elections (elections to the House of Commons), the UK is divided into 650 constituencies, each of which is represented by a Member of Parliament (MP). MPs hold office for up to five years and are always up for relection in general elections. The Conservative Party, Labour Party and Scottish National Party are, respectively, the current first, second and third largest parties (by number of MPs) in the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister is the head of government in the United Kingdom. Nearly all Prime Ministers have served as First Lord of the Treasury and all Prime Ministers have continuously served as First Lord of the Treasury since 1905, Minister for the Civil Service since 1968 and Minister for the Union since 2019. In modern times, the Prime Minister is, by constitutional convention, an MP. The Prime Minister is appointed by the monarch and their appointment is governed by constitutional conventions. However, they are normally the leader of the political party with the most seats in the House of Commons and hold office by virtue of their ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister not only has statutory functions (alongside other ministers), but is the monarch's principal adviser and it is for them to advise the monarch on the exercise of the royal prerogative in relation to government. In particular, the Prime Minister recommends the appointment of ministers and the decides the composition of the Cabinet.
The geographical division of the United Kingdom into counties or shires began in England and Scotland in the early Middle Ages and was complete throughout Great Britain and Ireland by the early Modern Period. Administrative arrangements were developed separately in each country of the United Kingdom, with origins which often predated the formation of the United Kingdom. Modern local government by elected councils, partly based on the ancient counties, was introduced separately: in England and Wales in a 1888 act, Scotland in a 1889 act and Ireland in a 1898 act, meaning there is no consistent system of administrative or geographic demarcation across the United Kingdom. Until the 19th century there was little change to those arrangements, but there has since been a constant evolution of role and function.
The organisation of local government in England is complex, with the distribution of functions varying according to local arrangements. The upper-tier subdivisions of England are the nine regions, now used primarily for statistical purposes. One region, Greater London, has had a directly elected assembly and mayor since 2000 following popular support for the proposal in a referendum. It was intended that other regions would also be given their own elected regional assemblies, but a proposed assembly in the Northeast region was rejected by a referendum in 2004. Since 2011, ten combined authorities have been established in England. Eight of these have elected mayors, the first elections for which took place on 4 May 2017. Below the regional tier, some parts of England have county councils and district councils and others have unitary authorities, while London consists of 32 London boroughs and the City of London. Councillors are elected by the first-past-the-post system in single-member wards or by the multi-member plurality system in multi-member wards.
Local government in Wales consists of 22 unitary authorities. All unitary authorities are led by a leader and cabinet elected by the council itself. These include the cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, which are unitary authorities in their own right. Elections are held every four years under the first-past-the-post system.
Wales and Cornwall each have their own government or executive, led by a First Minister (or Lewydh in cornish), and a devolved unicameral legislature. England, the largest country of the United Kingdom, has no devolved executive or legislature and is administered and legislated for directly by the UK's government and parliament on all issues. This situation has given rise to the so-called West Lothian question, which concerns the fact that members of parliament from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can vote, sometimes decisively, on matters that affect only England.
The Welsh Government and the Senedd (Welsh Parliament; formerly the National Assembly for Wales) have wide-ranging powers over any matter that has not been specifically reserved to the UK Parliament, including education, healthcare, Welsh law and local government. These powers were expanded following the independence of Scotland.
The Cornish Government and the Parliament have more limited powers than those devolved to Wales.