United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Area: 243,000 sq. km. (93,000 sq. mi.); slightly smaller
Cities: Capital--London (metropolitan pop. about 7.56
million). Other cities--Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds,
Sheffield, Liverpool, Bradford, Manchester, Edinburgh,
Terrain: 30% arable, 50% meadow and pasture, 12% waste or
urban, 7% forested, 1% inland water.
Land use: 25% arable, 46% meadows and pastures, 10% forests
and woodland, 19% other.
Climate: Generally mild and temperate; weather is subject to
frequent changes but to few extremes of temperature.
Nationality: Noun--Briton(s). Adjective--British.
Population (2008 est.): 61.4 million.
Annual population growth rate (2008 est.): 0.7%.
Major ethnic groups: British, Irish, West Indian, South
Major religions: Church of England (Anglican), Roman
Catholic, Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), Muslim.
Major languages: English, Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scottish
Education: Years compulsory--12. Attendance--nearly 100%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2008 est.)--5/1,000. Life
expectancy (2008 est.)--males 77.2 yrs.; females 81.5 yrs.;
total 79.4 years.
Work force (2008, 31.36 million): Services--81.5%;
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: Unwritten; partly statutes, partly common law
Branches: Executive--monarch (head of state), prime minister
(head of government), cabinet. Legislative--bicameral
Parliament: House of Commons, House of Lords; Scottish
Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and Northern Ireland Assembly.
Judicial--magistrates' courts, county courts, high courts,
appellate courts, House of Lords.
Subdivisions: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland
(municipalities, counties, and parliamentary
Political parties: Great Britain--Conservative, Labour,
Liberal Democrats; also, in Scotland--Scottish National
Party. Wales--Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales). Northern
Ireland--Ulster Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour
Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, Alliance Party,
and other smaller parties.
Suffrage: British subjects and citizens of other
Commonwealth countries and the Irish Republic resident in
the U.K., at 18.
GDP (at current market prices, 2008): $2.68 trillion.
Annual growth rate (2008): 0.7%.
Per capita GDP (at current market prices, 2008): $43,734.
Natural resources: Coal, oil, natural gas, tin, limestone,
iron ore, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, lead, silica.
Agriculture (1% of GDP): Products--cereals, oilseed,
potatoes, vegetables, cattle, sheep, poultry, fish.
Industry: Types--steel, heavy engineering and metal
manufacturing, textiles, motor vehicles and aircraft,
construction (6% of GDP), electronics, chemicals.
Services (75% of GDP): Types--financial, business,
distribution, transport, communication, hotels.
Trade (2008): Exports of goods and services--$458.8 billion:
manufactured goods, fuels, chemicals; food, beverages,
tobacco. Major markets--U.S., European Union. Imports of
goods and services--$630.7 billion: manufactured goods,
machinery, fuels, foodstuffs. Major suppliers--U.S.,
European Union, Japan, and China.
The United Kingdom's population in 2004 surpassed 60
million--the third-largest in the European Union. Its
overall population density is one of the highest in the
world. Almost one-third of the population lives in England's
prosperous and fertile southeast and is predominantly urban
and suburban--with about 7.5 million in the capital of
London, which remains the largest city in Europe. The United
Kingdom's high literacy rate (99%) is attributable to
universal public education introduced for the primary level
in 1870 and secondary level in 1900. Education is mandatory
from ages 5 through 16. The Church of England and the Church
of Scotland are the official churches in their respective
parts of the country, but most religions found in the world
are represented in the United Kingdom.
A group of islands close to continental Europe, the British
Isles have been subject to many invasions and migrations,
especially from Scandinavia and the continent, including
Roman occupation for several centuries. Contemporary Britons
are descended mainly from the varied ethnic stocks that
settled there before the 11th century. The pre-Celtic,
Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Norse influences were
blended in Britain under the Normans, Scandinavian Vikings
who had lived in Northern France. Although Celtic languages
persist in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, the
predominant language is English, which is primarily a blend
of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French.
The Roman invasion of Britain in 55 BC and most of
Britain's subsequent incorporation into the Roman Empire
stimulated development and brought more active contacts with
the rest of Europe. As Rome's strength declined, the country
again was exposed to invasion--including the pivotal
incursions of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in the fifth and
sixth centuries AD--up to the Norman conquest in 1066.
Norman rule effectively ensured Britain's safety from
further intrusions; certain institutions, which remain
characteristic of Britain, could develop. Among these are a
political, administrative, cultural, and economic center in
London; a separate but established church; a system of
common law; distinctive and distinguished university
education; and representative government.
Both Wales and Scotland were independent kingdoms that
resisted English rule. The English conquest of Wales
succeeded in 1282 under Edward I, and the Statute of
Rhuddlan established English rule 2 years later. To appease
the Welsh, Edward's son (later Edward II), who had been born
in Wales, was made Prince of Wales in 1301. The tradition of
bestowing this title on the eldest son of the British
Monarch continues today. An act of 1536 completed the
political and administrative union of England and Wales.
While maintaining separate parliaments, England and Scotland
were ruled under one crown beginning in 1603, when James VI
of Scotland succeeded his cousin Elizabeth I as James I of
England. In the ensuing 100 years, strong religious and
political differences divided the kingdoms. Finally, in
1707, England and Scotland were unified as Great Britain,
sharing a single Parliament at Westminster.
Ireland's invasion by the Anglo-Normans in 1170 led to
centuries of strife. Successive English kings sought to
conquer Ireland. In the early 17th century, large-scale
settlement of the north from Scotland and England began.
After its defeat, Ireland was subjected, with varying
degrees of success, to control and regulation by Britain.
The legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland was
completed on January 1, 1801, under the name of the United
Kingdom. However, armed struggle for independence continued
sporadically into the 20th century. The Anglo-Irish Treaty
of 1921 established the Irish Free State, which subsequently
left the Commonwealth and became a republic after World War
II. Six northern, predominantly Protestant, Irish counties
have remained part of the United Kingdom.
British Expansion and Empire
Begun initially to support William the Conqueror's (c.
1029-1087) holdings in France, Britain's policy of active
involvement in continental European affairs endured for
several hundred years. By the end of the 14th century,
foreign trade, originally based on wool exports to Europe,
had emerged as a cornerstone of national policy.
The foundations of sea power were gradually laid to protect
English trade and open up new routes. Defeat of the Spanish
Armada in 1588 firmly established England as a major sea
power. Thereafter, its interests outside Europe grew
steadily. Attracted by the spice trade, English mercantile
interests spread first to the Far East. In search of an
alternate route to the Spice Islands, John Cabot reached the
North American continent in 1498. Sir Walter Raleigh
organized the first, short-lived colony in Virginia in 1584,
and permanent English settlement began in 1607 at Jamestown,
Virginia. During the next two centuries, Britain extended
its influence abroad and consolidated its political
development at home.
Great Britain's industrial revolution greatly strengthened
its ability to oppose Napoleonic France. By the end of the
Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the United Kingdom was the foremost
European power, and its navy ruled the seas. Peace in Europe
allowed the British to focus their interests on more remote
parts of the world, and, during this period, the British
Empire reached its zenith. British colonial expansion
reached its height largely during the reign of Queen
Victoria (1837-1901). Queen Victoria's reign witnessed the
spread of British technology, commerce, language, and
government throughout the British Empire, which, at its
greatest extent, encompassed roughly one-fifth to
one-quarter of the world's area and population. British
colonies contributed to the United Kingdom's extraordinary
economic growth and strengthened its voice in world affairs.
Even as the United Kingdom extended its imperial reach
overseas, it continued to develop and broaden its democratic
institutions at home.
By the time of Queen Victoria's death in 1901, other
nations, including the United States and Germany, had
developed their own industries; the United Kingdom's
comparative economic advantage had lessened, and the
ambitions of its rivals had grown. The losses and
destruction of World War I, the depression of the 1930s, and
decades of relatively slow growth eroded the United
Kingdom's preeminent international position of the previous
Britain's control over its empire loosened during the
interwar period. Ireland, with the exception of six northern
counties, gained independence from the United Kingdom in
1921. Nationalism became stronger in other parts of the
empire, particularly in India and Egypt.
In 1926, the United Kingdom, completing a process begun a
century earlier, granted Australia, Canada, and New Zealand
complete autonomy within the empire. They became charter
members of the British Commonwealth of Nations (now known as
the Commonwealth), an informal but closely-knit association
that succeeded the empire. Beginning with the independence
of India and Pakistan in 1947, the remainder of the British
Empire was almost completely dismantled. Today, most of
Britain's former colonies belong to the Commonwealth, almost
all of them as independent members. There are, however, 13
former British colonies--including Bermuda, Gibraltar, the
Falkland Islands, and others--which have elected to continue
their political links with London and are known as United
Kingdom Overseas Territories.
Although often marked by economic and political nationalism,
the Commonwealth offers the United Kingdom a voice in
matters concerning many developing countries. In addition,
the Commonwealth helps preserve many institutions deriving
from British experience and models, such as parliamentary
democracy, in those countries.
The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution.
The equivalent body of law is based on statute, common law,
and "traditional rights." Changes may come about formally
through new acts of Parliament, informally through the
acceptance of new practices and usage, or by judicial
precedents. Although Parliament has the theoretical power to
make or repeal any law, in actual practice the weight of 700
years of tradition restrains arbitrary actions.
Executive power rests nominally with the monarch but
actually is exercised by a committee of ministers (cabinet)
traditionally selected from among the members of the House
of Commons and, to a lesser extent, the House of Lords. The
prime minister is normally the leader of the largest party
in the Commons, and the government is dependent on its
Parliament represents the entire country and can legislate
for the whole or for any constituent part or combination of
parts. The maximum parliamentary term is 5 years, but the
prime minister may ask the monarch to dissolve Parliament
and call a general election at any time. The focus of
legislative power is the 646-member House of Commons, which
has sole jurisdiction over finance. The House of Lords,
although shorn of most of its powers, can still review,
amend, or delay temporarily any bills except those relating
to the budget. The House of Lords has more time than the
House of Commons to pursue one of its more important
functions--debating public issues. In 1999, the government
removed the automatic right of hereditary peers to hold
seats in the House of Lords. The current house consists of
appointed life peers who hold their seats for life and 92
hereditary peers who will hold their seats only until final
reforms have been agreed upon and implemented. The judiciary
is independent of the legislative and executive branches but
cannot review the constitutionality of legislation.
The separate identities of each of the United Kingdom's
constituent parts are also reflected in their respective
governmental structures. Up until the recent devolution of
power to Scotland and Wales, a cabinet minister (the
Secretary of State for Wales) handled Welsh affairs at the
national level with the advice of a broadly representative
council for Wales. Scotland maintains, as it did before
union with England, different systems of law (Roman-French),
education, local government, judiciary, and national church
(the Church of Scotland instead of the Church of England).
In addition, separate departments grouped under a Secretary
of State for Scotland, who also is a cabinet member, handled
most domestic matters. In late 1997, however, following
approval of referenda by Scottish and Welsh voters (though
only narrowly in Wales), the British Government introduced
legislation to establish a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh
Assembly. The first elections for the two bodies were held
May 6, 1999. The Welsh Assembly opened on May 26, and the
Scottish Parliament opened on July 1, 1999. The devolved
legislatures have largely taken over most of the functions
previously performed by the Scottish and Welsh offices.
Northern Ireland had its own Parliament and prime minister
from 1921 to 1973, when the British Government imposed
direct rule in order to deal with the deteriorating
political and security situation. From 1973, the Secretary
of State for Northern Ireland, based in London, was
responsible for the region, including efforts to resolve the
issues that lay behind the "the troubles."
By the mid-1990s, gestures toward peace encouraged by
successive British governments and by President Clinton
began to open the door for restored local government in
Northern Ireland. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) cease-fire
and nearly 2 years of multiparty negotiations, led by former
U.S. Senator George Mitchell, resulted in the Good Friday
Agreement of April 10, 1998, which was subsequently approved
by majorities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of
Ireland. Key elements of the agreement include devolved
government, a commitment of the parties to work toward
"total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations,"
police reform, and enhanced mechanisms to guarantee human
rights and equal opportunity. The Good Friday Agreement also
called for formal cooperation between the Northern Ireland
institutions and the Government of the Republic of Ireland,
and it established the British-Irish Council, which includes
representatives of the British and Irish Governments as well
as the devolved Governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland,
and Wales. Devolved government was reestablished in Northern
Ireland in December 1999.
The Good Friday Agreement provides for a 108-member elected
Assembly, overseen by a 12-minister Executive Committee
(cabinet) in which unionists and nationalists share
leadership responsibility. Northern Ireland elects 18
representatives to the Westminster Parliament in London.
However, the five Sinn Fein Members of Parliament (MPs), who
won seats in the last election, have refused to claim their
seats. Progress has been made on each of the key elements of
the Good Friday Agreement. Most notably, a new police force
has been instituted; the IRA has undertaken two acts of
decommissioning of its weapons, and some measures to
normalize the security situation in Northern Ireland have
been taken. Disagreements over the implementation of
elements of the agreement and allegations about the IRA's
continued engagement in paramilitary activity, however, have
troubled the peace process for several years. In October
2002, Northern Ireland's devolved institutions were
suspended amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at
Stormont, the seat of Northern Ireland's government.
Assembly elections scheduled for May 2003 were postponed.
Elections were held in November 2003, but the Assembly
remained suspended. Finally, in 2007, the parties signed the
St. Andrews Agreement, which paved the way for the Northern
Ireland Government to stand up and for the devolution of
powers to Belfast to occur. Responsibility for police and
justice issues in Northern Ireland remains the last
component of devolution to take place. The parties reached
agreement on the mechanism for administration of police and
justice issues in 2008, and legislation to legally transfer
this authority is now before the Parliament in London. The
United States remains firmly committed to the peace process
in Northern Ireland and to the Good Friday Agreement, which
it views as the best means to ensure lasting peace. The
United States has condemned all acts of terrorism and
violence, perpetrated by any group.
The United States also is committed to Northern Ireland's
economic development and to date has given or pledged
contributions of more than $300 million to the International
Fund for Ireland. The fund provides grants and loans to
businesses to improve the economy, redress inequalities of
employment opportunity, and improve cross-border business
and community ties.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Prime Minister (Head of Government)--The Rt. Hon. Gordon
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs--The
Rt. Hon. David Miliband, MP
Ambassador to the U.S.--Sir Nigel Sheinwald
Ambassador to the UN--Sir John Sawers
The United Kingdom maintains an embassy in the United States
at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel.
202-588-6500; fax 202-588-7870).
Tony Blair became the first Labour Prime Minister ever
to win a third consecutive term when he was re-elected on
May 5, 2005. Labour has a 62-seat majority in the House of
Commons. The Conservative (Tory) Party and Liberal-Democrats
(LibDems) form the major opposition parties. Blair stepped
down as Prime Minister in June 2007. Labour Party leader
Gordon Brown succeeded him. The main British parties support
a strong transatlantic link, but are increasingly absorbed
by European issues as Britain's economic and political ties
to the continent grow in the post-Cold War world. Prime
Minister Brown has continued Blairís policy of having the
United Kingdom play a leading role in Europe even as the
United Kingdom maintains its strong bilateral relationship
with the United States.
DEFENSE AND FOREIGN RELATIONS
The United Kingdom is a founding member of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and is one of NATO's
major European maritime, air, and land powers; it ranks
third among NATO countries in total defense expenditure. The
United Kingdom has been a member of the European Community
(now European Union) since 1973. In the United Nations, the
United Kingdom is a permanent member of the Security
Council. The U.K. held the Presidency of the G-8 during
2005; it held the EU Presidency from July to December 2005.
The British Armed Forces are charged with protecting the
United Kingdom and its overseas territories, promoting
Britain's wider security interests, and supporting
international peacekeeping efforts. The 37,000-member Royal
Navy, which includes 6,000 Royal Marine commandos, is in
charge of the United Kingdom's independent strategic nuclear
arm, which consists of four Trident missile submarines. The
British Army, consisting of approximately 99,200 personnel,
the Royal Air Force, with 42,000 personnel, along with the
Royal Navy and Royal Marines, are active and regular
participants in NATO and other coalition operations.
Approximately 9% of the British Armed Forces is female, and
4% of British forces represent ethnic minorities.
The United Kingdom stood shoulder to shoulder with the
United States following the September 11, 2001 terrorist
attacks in the U.S., and its military forces are, after U.S.
forces, the second largest contingent of the coalition force
in Afghanistan. The U.K. force in Afghanistan stood at 9,000
as of October 10, 2009. U.K. forces are primarily based in
the Helmand region, where they are on the front line in the
war against continued Taliban operations. In addition, the
U.K. has contributed more than £510 million (approximately
$723.4 million) to Afghan reconstruction--the second-largest
donor after the United States. The U.K. was the United
States' main coalition partner in Operation Iraqi Freedom;
its combat forces withdrew from Iraq in July 2009.
The United Kingdom has the sixth-largest economy in the
world, is the third-largest economy in the European Union,
and is a major international trading power. A highly
developed, diversified, market-based economy with extensive
social welfare services provides most residents with a high
standard of living. Unemployment and inflation levels are
amongst the lowest within the European Union.
The United Kingdomís economy was hit by turmoil in the
financial markets. It entered a recession in the third
quarter of 2008, accompanied by rising unemployment which
increased from 5.2% in January 2008 to 7.9% in July 2009. In
response, the British Government implemented a wide-ranging
stability and recovery plan that included a fiscal stimulus
package, bank recapitalization, and credit stimulus schemes.
London remains a leading international financial center, but
has been affected by recent financial market turbulence.
London banks have laid off workers and many have scaled back
their international operations. Two U.K. banks, Northern
Rock and Bradford & Bingley, have been nationalized while
the British Government has taken a significant share in two
others. Londonís financial exports contribute greatly to the
United Kingdomís gross domestic product, but its
contribution is expected to be considerably lessened in the
next few years. London is a global leader in emissions
trading and is home to the Alternative Investment Market
(AIM). It is also a government priority to make London the
leading center of Islamic finance.
The United Kingdom is the European Union's only significant
energy exporter. It is also one of the world's largest
energy consumers, and most analysts predict a shift in U.K.
status from net exporter to net importer of energy by 2020,
possibly sooner. Oil production in the U.K. is leveling off.
While North Sea natural gas production continues to rise,
gains may be offset by ever-increasing consumption. North
Sea oil and gas exploration activities are shifting to
smaller fields and to increments of larger, developed
fields, presenting opportunities for smaller, independent
energy operators to become active in North Sea production.
U.S.-UNITED KINGDOM RELATIONS
The United Kingdom is one of the United States' closest
allies, and British foreign policy emphasizes close
coordination with the United States. Bilateral cooperation
reflects the common language, ideals, and democratic
practices of the two nations. Relations were strengthened by
the United Kingdom's alliance with the United States during
both World Wars, and its role as a founding member of NATO,
in the Korean conflict, in the Persian Gulf War, and in
Operation Iraqi Freedom. The United Kingdom and the United
States continually consult on foreign policy issues and
global problems and share major foreign and security policy
The United Kingdom is the sixth-largest market for U.S.
goods exports after Canada, Mexico, China, Japan and
Germany, and the sixth-largest supplier of U.S. imports
after Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, and Germany. U.S.
exports of goods and services to the United Kingdom in 2008
totaled $116 billion, while U.S. imports from the U.K.
totaled $104 billion. The United Kingdom is a large source
of foreign tourists in the United States. In 2008, 2.95
million U.S. residents visited the United Kingdom, while 4
million U.K. residents visited the United States.
The United States and the United Kingdom share the world's
largest foreign direct investment partnership. U.S.
investment in the United Kingdom reached $421 billion in
2008, while U.K. direct investment in the U.S. totaled $454
billion. This investment sustains more than 1 million
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Louis B. Susman
Deputy Chief of Mission--Richard LeBaron
Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs--Gregory Berry
Minister-Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Dorothy Lutter
Minister-Counselor for Economic Affairs--Richard Albright
Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs--Sandra Kaiser
Minister-Counselor for Management Affairs--James Melville
Minister-Counselor for Consular Affairs--Derwood Staeben
Regional Security Officer--Mark J. Hipp
U.S. Consul General in Belfast--Kamala S. Lakhdhir
Principal Officer in Edinburgh--Dana M. Linnet
The U.S. Embassy in the United Kingdom is located at 24
Grosvenor Sq., W1A 1AE, London (tel.  (207) 499-9000;
fax  (207) 409-1637).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information
Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad
through Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, and
Travel Warnings. Country Specific Information exists for all
countries and includes information on entry and exit
requirements, currency regulations, health conditions,
safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the
addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information quickly
about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term
conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the
security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued
when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid
travel to a certain country because the situation is
dangerous or unstable.
For the latest security information, Americans living and
traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's
Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at
http://www.travel.state.gov , where the current
Worldwide Caution, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings can be
found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain
information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip
abroad, are also available at
http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information
on international travel, see
The Department of State encourages all U.S. citizens
traveling or residing abroad to register via the State
Department's travel registration website or at the nearest
U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make
your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary
to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to
receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad
may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the
U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for
callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S.
Department of State's single, centralized public contact
center for U.S. passport information. Telephone:
1-877-4-USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778); TDD/TTY: 1-888-874-7793.
Passport information is available 24 hours, 7 days a week.
You may speak with a representative Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to
10 p.m., Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta,
Georgia. A hotline at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) and a web
http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx give the most
recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or
requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety
for regions and countries. The CDC publication "Health
Information for International Travel" can be found at
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at
http://www.state.gov , the Department of State web site
provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign
policy information, including Background Notes and daily
press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security
Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and
regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad
through its website
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related
assistance and market information offered by the federal
government and provides trade leads, free export counseling,
help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of
Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and
international trade information from the Federal government.
The site includes current and historical trade-related
releases, international market research, trade
opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to
the National Trade Data Bank.