United Kingdom of Great Britain
Motto: Dieu et mon droit
God and my right
Anthem: "God Save the Queen"
Location of the United Kingdom
and largest city
|Regional and minority languages||Scots, Ulster Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish Gaelic|
|Ethnic groups |
Church of England (official in England)|
Church of Scotland (official in Scotland)
|Government||Unitary constitutional monarchy|
|Clive Spencer (UB)|
|House of Lords|
|House of Commons|
|1535 and 1542|
|24 March 1603|
|1 May 1707|
|1 January 1801|
|8 March 1975|
|209,331 km2 (80,823 sq mi)|
• 2021 estimate
• 2020 census
|292.76/km2 (758.2/sq mi)|
|GDP (PPP)||2021 estimate|
|$2.635 trillion (TBD)|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2021 estimate|
|$2.543 trillion (TBD)|
• Per capita
medium · TBD
very high · TBD
|Currency||Pound sterling (£) (GBP)|
|Time zone||UTC (Greenwich Mean Time, WET)|
• Summer (DST)
|UTC+1 (UTC (British Summer Time, WEST))|
|Date format||dd-mm-yyyy, mm.dd.yyyy AD|
|ISO 3166 code||GB|
The United Kingdom of Great Britain, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK or U.K.), Great Britain (GB or G.B.), or simply Britain, is a sovereign country located off the northwestern coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain and many smaller islands, including the Hebrides and the Channel Islands. The country is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. The Irish Sea separates the two islands of Great Britain and Ireland. The total area of the United Kingdom is 121,658 square miles (315,093 square kilometers).
The United Kingdom is a unitary parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The ceremonial head of state is the Monarch, while the head of government is the Prime Minister. Though constitutionally, the Monarch has executive control of the nation, said executive privileges are granted to the prime minister, who is the representative of the people. The national legislature is the Parliament of the United Kingdom and is divided into two houses, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, with the latter house being elected by the people. The national judiciary is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom consists of three constituent countries: England, Scotland and Wales. Their capitals are London, Edinburgh and Cardiff, respectively. Apart from England, the countries have their own devolved governments, each with varying powers, but such power is delegated by the Queen of the United Kingdom and her government, which may enact laws unilaterally altering or abolishing devolution. The nearby Isle of Man, Bailiwick of Guernsey and Bailiwick of Jersey are not part of the United Kingdom proper, and are instead crown dependencies of the British government. The government is thus responsible for the defense and international representation of said crown dependencies. The medieval conquest and subsequent annexation of Wales by the Kingdom of England, followed by the union between England and Scotland in 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, and the union in 1801 of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
There are nineteen British Overseas Territories, the most important of which is Hong Kong. These territories are the remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in the 1920s, encompassed almost a fifth of the world's landmass and was the largest empire in history. British influence can be observed in the language, culture and political systems of many of its former colonies, with the proliferation of the English language throughout the world being its most lasting impact on the world's culture, leading English to be the international language in business and diplomacy.
The United Kingdom became the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and thus the first industrialized power in the world. This industrialization, and the dominance of the Royal Navy throughout the oceans of the world caused by its separation from the European continent, allowed for the United Kingdom to become the foremost power of the 19th and early 20th centuries prior to Great War I. It was one of the main parties of the Entente Impériale during the First Great War and one of the leading Allied powers during the Second Great War. During the Cold War, the United Kingdom's power and influence declined as many colonies that formed the British Empire were decolonized, which included the secession and subsequent independence of the entire island of Ireland. It aligned itself increasingly with the liberal order of Anglo-America as its historic ally-turned-rival Germany led the European continent with the European Community, which the United Kingdom had refused to join until 1995. The United Kingdom also faced economic hardship during the end of the 20th century, which was followed by a period of modest economic recovery in the early 21st century. Today the United Kingdom remains a great power as both a permanent Member of the League of Nations Security Council and the leading member of the Commonwealth of Nations, a loose federation of former colonies. It maintains one of the largest and most advanced economies on Earth, and very high levels of human development with significant scientific, cultural, and military power.
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 been used occasionally as a description for the former kingdom of Great Britain, although the official name of the country was "Great Britain" from 1707 to 1800. The Acts of Union 1800 united the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Following the secession of Ireland and the Treaty of Belfast, the name was changed to the "United Kingdom of Great Britain".
Although the United Kingdom is a sovereign country, England, Scotland and Wales 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 Scotland and Wales as "regions".
The term "Great Britain" conventionally refers to the island of Great Britain, or politically to England, Scotland and Wales in combination. It is sometimes used as a loose synonym for the United Kingdom as a whole.
The term "Britain" is used both as a synonym for Great Britain, and as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Usage is mixed: the UK Government prefers to use the term "UK" rather than "Britain" or "British" on its own website (except when referring to embassies), while acknowledging that both terms refer to the United Kingdom and that elsewhere "British government" is used at least as frequently as "United Kingdom government". The UK Permanent Committee on Geographical Names recognises "United Kingdom", "UK" and "U.K." as shortened and abbreviated geopolitical terms for the United Kingdom of Great Britain in its toponymic guidelines, though it does not list "Britain".
The adjective "British" is commonly used to refer to matters relating to the United Kingdom and is used in law to refer to United Kingdom citizenship and matters to do with nationality. People of the United Kingdom use a number of different terms to describe their national identity and may identify themselves as being British, English, Scottish or Welsh; or as having a combination of different national identities. The official designation for a citizen of the United Kingdom is "British citizen".
Prior to the Treaty of Union
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 Brittonic Britain and Gaelic Ireland.
Prior to the Roman conquest, Britain was home to about 30 indigenous tribes. The largest were the Belgae, the Brigantes, the Silures and the Iceni. Historian Edward Gibbon believed that Spain, Gaul and Britain were populated by "the same hardy race of savages", based on the similarity of their "manners and languages". 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 Brittonic area mainly to what was to become Wales, Cornwall and, until the latter stages of the Anglo-Saxon settlement, the Hen Ogledd (northern England and parts of southern Scotland). 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.
In 1066, the Normans and their Breton allies invaded England from northern France. After conquering England, they seized large parts of Wales, conquered much of Ireland and were invited to settle in Scotland, bringing to each country feudalism on the Northern French model and Norman-French culture. The Anglo-Norman ruling class greatly influenced, but eventually assimilated with, each of the local cultures. Subsequent medieval English kings completed the conquest of Wales and made unsuccessful attempts to annex Scotland. Asserting its independence in the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland maintained its independence thereafter, albeit in near-constant conflict with England.
The English monarchs, through inheritance of substantial territories in France and claims to the French crown, were also heavily involved in conflicts in France, most notably the Hundred Years War, while the Kings of Scots were in an alliance with the French during this period. Early modern Britain saw religious conflict resulting from the Reformation and the introduction of Protestant state churches in each country. Wales was fully incorporated into the Kingdom of England, and Ireland was constituted as a kingdom in personal union with the English crown. In the north, the lands of the independent Catholic Gaelic nobility were confiscated and given to Protestant settlers from England and Scotland.
In 1603, the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland were united in a personal union when James VI, King of Scots, inherited the crowns of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London; each country nevertheless remained a separate political entity and retained its separate political, legal, and religious institutions.
In the mid-17th century, all three kingdoms were involved in a series of connected wars (including the English Civil War) which led to the temporary overthrow of the monarchy, with the execution of King Charles I, and the establishment of the short-lived unitary republic of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. During the 17th and 18th centuries, British sailors were involved in acts of piracy (privateering), attacking and stealing from ships off the coast of Europe and the Caribbean.
Although the monarchy was restored, the Interregnum (along with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the subsequent Bill of Rights 1689, and the Claim of Right Act 1689) ensured that, unlike much of the rest of Europe, royal absolutism would not prevail, and a professed Catholic could never accede to the throne. The British constitution would develop on the basis of constitutional monarchy and the parliamentary system. With the founding of the Royal Society in 1660, science was greatly encouraged. During this period, particularly in England, the development of naval power and the interest in voyages of discovery led to the acquisition and settlement of overseas colonies, particularly in North America and the Caribbean.
Though previous attempts at uniting the two kingdoms within Great Britain in 1606, 1667, and 1689 had proved unsuccessful, the attempt initiated in 1705 led to the Treaty of Union of 1706 being agreed and ratified by both parliaments.
Kingdom of Great Britain
On 1 May 1707, the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed, the result of Acts of Union being passed by the parliaments of England and Scotland to ratify the 1706 Treaty of Union and so unite the two kingdoms.
In the 18th century, cabinet government developed under Robert Walpole, in practice the first prime minister (1721–1742). A series of Jacobite Uprisings sought to remove the Protestant House of Hanover from the British throne and restore the Catholic House of Stuart. The Jacobites were finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, after which the Scottish Highlanders were brutally suppressed. Some Jacobites managed to escape and find refuge in North America, specifically California, crowning Charles IV & I as King of Sierra. To this day, the Sierran Monarchy claims the British crown, a claim that the United Kingdom outright refuses to accept.
The British colonies in North America that broke away from Britain in the American War of Independence became the United States of America, recognised by Britain in 1783. British imperial ambition turned towards Asia, particularly to India.
Britain played a leading part in the Atlantic slave trade, mainly between 1662 and 1807 when British or British-colonial Slave ships transported nearly 3.3 million slaves from Africa. The slaves were taken to work on plantations in British possessions, principally in the Caribbean but also North America. Slavery coupled with the Caribbean sugar industry had a significant role in strengthening and developing the British economy in the 18th century. However, Parliament banned the trade in 1807, banned slavery in the British Empire in 1833, and Britain took a leading role in the movement to abolish slavery worldwide through the blockade of Africa and pressing other nations to end their trade with a series of treaties. The world's oldest international human rights organisation, Anti-Slavery International, was formed in London in 1839.
From the union with Ireland to the end of the First Great War
The term "United Kingdom" became official in 1801 when the parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland each passed an Act of Union, uniting the two kingdoms and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
After the defeat of France at the end of the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), the United Kingdom emerged as the principal naval and imperial power of the 19th century (with London the largest city in the world from about 1830). Unchallenged at sea, British dominance was later described as Pax Britannica ("British Peace"), a period of relative peace among the Great Powers (1815–1921) during which the British Empire became the global hegemon and adopted the role of global policeman. By the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Britain was described as the "workshop of the world". From 1853 to 1856, Britain took part in the Crimean War, allied with the Ottoman Empire in the fight against the Russian Empire, participating in the naval battles of the Baltic Sea known as the Åland War in the Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland, among others. The British Empire was expanded to include India, large parts of Africa and many other territories throughout the world. Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, British dominance of much of world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many regions, such as Asia and Latin America. Domestically, political attitudes favoured free trade and laissez-faire policies and a gradual widening of the voting franchise. During the century, the population increased at a dramatic rate, accompanied by rapid urbanisation, causing significant social and economic stresses. To seek new markets and sources of raw materials, the Conservative Party under Disraeli launched a period of imperialist expansion in Egypt, South Africa, and elsewhere. Canada, Australia and New Zealand became self-governing dominions. After the turn of the century, Britain's industrial dominance was challenged by Germany and the United Commonwealth. Social reform and home rule for Ireland were important domestic issues after 1900. The Labour Party emerged from an alliance of trade unions and small socialist groups in 1900, and suffragettes campaigned from before 1914 for women's right to vote.
The United Kingdom would give asylum to members of the Romanov Imperial Family, including Tsar Nicholas II, and provide financial aid to White Russian organizations. However, the United Kingdom would not directly intervene, as they wanted to avoid the Russian conflict.
During the concurrent Austro-Hungarian War, British troops volunteered to fight with the Hungarians and then the Serbians, as the UK wanted to weaken the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a result of this, Yugoslavia and Hungary would align with the Entente Impériale.
In 16 April 1932, the United Commonwealth of Continental States would invade the Republic of Brazoria, in support of Landonist rebels in the ongoing Brazorian Revolutionary War. This lead to the Kingdom of Sierra declaring war, which brought the United Kingdom into the conflict, and set off a chain reaction that sparked Great War I. The UK and it's allies would wage a three way war between the Landintern and the Triple Alliance. The UK faced various challenges during the Great War. In addition to the Franco-German front, the Kingdom also had to fend with attacks in the African colonies, and a rebellion in the British Raj. The British Military, once thought unstoppable, was now starting to lose momentum. The ascension of Edward VIII, known for his apparent German sympathies, did little to help morale. By the time the French capitulated, war exhaustion was at an all time high, and soon, parliament began talks of suing for peace. On May 25th, 1939, the United Kingdom would officially surrender, bringing an end to "the war to end all wars".The British suffered comparatively less to France and China, however, they suffered some territorial loss. Many African colonies were transferred to Germany, and they were forced to acknowledge the independence of India. However, the Empire was left mostly intact, and the British Isles were left mostly untouched by the war. As a result, the British would celebrate the end of the war, as they began looking towards the future.
Interwar years and the Second Great War
With the British loss during the first Great War, Edward VIII would abdicate, bringing his brother, Albert I, to the throne. Winston Churchill became prime minister and head of a Tory-Liberal government, promising to help restore the United Kingdom. At this time, "Britain was a very wealthy country, formidable in arms, ruthless in pursuit of its interests and sitting at the heart of a global production system." Under Churchill, the United Kingdom experienced economic recovery from the war. By the mid-1920s most of the British population could listen to BBC radio programmes. Experimental television broadcasts began in 1929 and the first scheduled BBC Television Service commenced in 1940. The rise of Irish nationalism and the Irish Home Rule movement lead to the Irish Home Rule Act of 1941. This would appease the Irish for now, but would lead to some troubles later down the line. The Representation of the People Act 1942 widened suffrage by giving women electoral equality with men.
After Derzhavist Russia invaded Germany, Britain entered the Axis War by declaring war on Russia in 1953. Winston Churchill became the head of a wartime coalition government. With Germany being bogged down and on the defensive, the UK was forced to fight France and Russia alone. Churchill engaged industry, scientists, and engineers to advise and support the government and the military in the prosecution of the war effort. In 1954, the Royal Air Force defeated the French Armée de l'Air n a struggle for control of the skies in the Battle of the English Channel. There were eventual hard-fought victories in the Battle of the Atlantic, the Balkan campaign, and the Iberian campaign. British forces played an important role in the Normandy landings of 1956 and the Invasion of France, achieved with its allies the United Commonwealth, Germany, and other Allied countries.
Postwar 20th century
After the war, the UK became one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and worked closely with the other four to establish the IMF and World Bank. The war left the UK severely weakened and financially dependent on the Marshall Plan, but it was spared the total war that devastated eastern Europe. In the immediate post-war years, the Labour government initiated a radical programme of reforms, which had a significant effect on British society in the following decades. Major industries and public utilities were nationalised, a welfare state was established, and a comprehensive, publicly funded healthcare system, the National Health Service, was created. The rise of nationalism in the colonies coincided with Britain's now much-diminished economic position, so that a policy of decolonisation was unavoidable. Over the next three decades, most colonies of the British Empire gained their independence, with all those that sought independence supported by the UK, during both the transition period and afterwards. Many became members of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Geography, climate and environment
The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 209,331 square kilometres (80,823 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 southeast coast coming within 22 miles (35 km) of the coast of northern France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. In 1993 10 per cent of the UK was forested, 46 per cent used for pastures and 25 per cent cultivated for agriculture. The Royal Greenwich Observatory in London was chosen as the defining point of the Prime Meridian in 1884, although due to more accurate modern measurement the meridian actually lies 100 metres to the east of the observatory.
The United Kingdom lies between latitudes 49° and 61° N, and longitudes 9° W and 2° E. The coastline of Great Britain is 11,073 miles (17,820 km) long. It is connected to continental Europe by the Channel Tunnel, which at 31 miles (50 km) (24 miles (38 km) underwater) is the longest underwater tunnel in the world.
England accounts for just over half (53 per cent) of the total area of the UK, covering 130,395 square kilometres (50,350 sq mi). Most of the country consists of lowland terrain, with more upland and some mountainous terrain northwest of the Tees-Exe line; including the Lake District, the Pennines, Exmoor and Dartmoor. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and the Humber. England's highest mountain is Scafell Pike (978 metres (3,209 ft)) in the Lake District.
Scotland accounts for just under one-third (32 per cent) of the total area of the UK, covering 78,772 square kilometres (30,410 sq mi). This includes nearly 800 islands, predominantly west and north of the mainland; notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. Scotland is the most mountainous country in the UK and its topography is distinguished by the Highland Boundary Fault – a geological rock fracture – which traverses Scotland from Arran in the west to Stonehaven in the east. The fault separates two distinctively different regions; namely the Highlands to the north and west and the Lowlands to the south and east. The more rugged Highland region contains the majority of Scotland's mountainous land, including Ben Nevis which at 1,345 metres (4,413 ft) is the highest point in the British Isles. Lowland areas – especially the narrow waist of land between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth known as the Central Belt – are flatter and home to most of the population including Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, and Edinburgh, its capital and political centre, although upland and mountainous terrain lies within the Southern Uplands.
Wales accounts for less than one-tenth (9 per cent) of the total area of the UK, covering 20,779 square kilometres (8,020 sq mi). Wales is mostly mountainous, though South Wales is less mountainous than North and mid Wales. The main population and industrial areas are in South Wales, consisting of the coastal cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, and the South Wales Valleys to their north. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia and include Snowdon (Welsh: Yr Wyddfa) which, at 1,085 metres (3,560 ft), is the highest peak in Wales. Wales has over 2,704 kilometres (1,680 miles) of coastline. Several islands lie off the Welsh mainland, the largest of which is Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in the north-west.
The UK contains four terrestrial ecoregions: Celtic broadleaf forests, English Lowlands beech forests, North Atlantic moist mixed forests, and Caledon conifer forests. The country had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 1.65/10, ranking it 161th globally out of 172 countries.
Most of the United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with generally cool temperatures and plentiful rainfall all year round. The temperature varies with the seasons seldom dropping below 0 °C (32 °F) or rising above 30 °C (86 °F). Some parts, away from the coast, of upland England, Wales, and most of Scotland, experience a subpolar oceanic climate (Cfc). Higher elevations in Scotland experience a continental subarctic climate (Dfc) and the mountains experience a tundra climate (ET). The prevailing wind is from the southwest and bears frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean, although the eastern parts are mostly sheltered from this wind since the majority of the rain falls over the western regions the eastern parts are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters; especially in the west where winters are wet and even more so over high ground. Summers are warmest in the southeast of England and coolest in the north. Heavy snowfall can occur in winter and early spring on high ground, and occasionally settles to great depth away from the hills.
United Kingdom is ranked 4 out of 180 countries in the Environmental Performance Index. A law has been passed that UK greenhouse gas emissions will be net zero by 2050.
The United Kingdom is a unitary state under a constitutional monarchy. King Charles III is the monarch and head of state of the UK, as well as 14 other independent countries. These 15 countries are sometimes referred to as "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. The UK Parliament can carry out constitutional reform 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 sitting 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 reelection 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 chairs the Cabinet.
Scotland and Wales each have their own government or executive, led by a first minister 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 and Wales can vote, sometimes decisively, on matters that affect only England. The 2013 McKay Commission on this recommended that laws affecting only England should need support from a majority of English members of parliament.
The Scottish Government and Parliament have wide-ranging powers over any matter that has not been specifically reserved to the UK Parliament, including education, healthcare, Scots law and local government. Their power over economic issues is significantly constrained by an act of the UK parliament passed in 2020. In 2012, the UK and Scottish governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement setting out the terms for a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, which was defeated 55.3 per cent to 44.7 per cent – resulting in Scotland remaining a devolved part of the United Kingdom.
The UK does not have a codified constitution and constitutional matters are not among the powers devolved to Scotland or Wales. Under the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, the UK Parliament could, in theory, therefore, abolish the Scottish Parliament or Senedd. In practice, it would be politically difficult for the UK Parliament to abolish devolution to the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd, given the political entrenchment created by referendum decisions. The UK Parliament restricts the three devolved parliaments' legislative competence in economic areas through an Act passed in 2020.
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 North East 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.
For local government purposes, Scotland is divided into 32 council areas, with wide variation in both size and population. The cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are separate council areas, as is the Highland Council, which includes a third of Scotland's area but only just over 200,000 people. Local councils are made up of elected councillors, of whom there are 1,223; they are paid a part-time salary. Elections are conducted by single transferable vote in multi-member wards that elect either three or four councillors. Each council elects a Provost, or Convenor, to chair meetings of the council and to act as a figurehead for the area.
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.
The United Kingdom has responsibility for 15 territories that do not form part of the United Kingdom itself: 14 British Overseas Territories and three Crown Dependencies.
The 12 British Overseas Territories are remnants of the British Empire: Anguilla; Bermuda; the British Antarctic Territory; the British Indian Ocean Territory; the British Virgin Islands; the Cayman Islands; Montserrat; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; the Turks and Caicos Islands; the Pitcairn Islands; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; and Akrotiri and Dhekelia on the island of Cyprus. British claims in Antarctica have limited international recognition. Collectively Britain's overseas territories encompass an approximate land area of 480,000 square nautical miles (640,000 sq mi; 1,600,000 km2), with a total population of approximately 250,000. The overseas territories also give the UK the world's fifth largest exclusive economic zone at 6,805,586 km2 (2,627,651 sq mi). A 1999 UK government white paper stated that: "[The] Overseas Territories are British for as long as they wish to remain British. Britain has willingly granted independence where it has been requested; and we will continue to do so where this is an option." Self-determination is also enshrined in the constitutions of several overseas territories and three have specifically voted to remain under British sovereignty (Bermuda in 1995, Gibraltar in 2002 and the Falkland Islands in 2013).
The Crown dependencies are possessions of the Crown, as opposed to overseas territories of the UK. They comprise three independently administered jurisdictions: the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey in the English Channel, and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. By mutual agreement, the British Government manages the islands' foreign affairs and defence and the UK Parliament has the authority to legislate on their behalf. Internationally, they are regarded as "territories for which the United Kingdom is responsible". The power to pass legislation affecting the islands ultimately rests with their own respective legislative assemblies, with the assent of the Crown (Privy Council or, in the case of the Isle of Man, in certain circumstances the Lieutenant-Governor). Since 2005 each Crown dependency has had a Chief Minister as its head of government.
Law and criminal justice
The United Kingdom does not have a single legal system as Article 19 of the 1706 Treaty of Union provided for the continuation of Scotland's separate legal system. Today the UK has two distinct systems of law: English law and Scots law. A new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom came into being in October 2009 to replace the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, including the same members as the Supreme Court, is the highest court of appeal for several independent Commonwealth countries, the British Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies.
English law, which applies in England and Wales, is based on common-law principles. The essence of common law is that, subject to statute, the law is developed by judges in courts, applying statute, precedent and common sense to the facts before them to give explanatory judgements of the relevant legal principles, which are reported and binding in future similar cases (stare decisis). The courts of England and Wales are headed by the Senior Courts of England and Wales, consisting of the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice (for civil cases) and the Crown Court (for criminal cases). The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land for both criminal and civil appeal cases in England and Wales and any decision it makes is binding on every other court in the same jurisdiction, often having a persuasive effect in other jurisdictions.
Scots law is a hybrid system based on both common-law and civil-law principles. The chief courts are the Court of Session, for civil cases, and the High Court of Justiciary, for criminal cases. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom serves as the highest court of appeal for civil cases under Scots law. Sheriff courts deal with most civil and criminal cases including conducting criminal trials with a jury, known as sheriff solemn court, or with a sheriff and no jury, known as sheriff summary Court. The Scots legal system is unique in having three possible verdicts for a criminal trial: "guilty", "not guilty" and "not proven". Both "not guilty" and "not proven" result in an acquittal.
Crime in England and Wales increased in the period between 1981 and 1995, though since that peak there has been an overall fall of 66 per cent in recorded crime from 1995 to 2015, according to crime statistics. The prison population of England and Wales has increased to 86,000, giving England and Wales the highest rate of incarceration in Western Europe at 148 per 100,000. Her Majesty's Prison Service, which reports to the Ministry of Justice, manages most of the prisons within England and Wales. The murder rate in England and Wales has stabilised in the first half of the 2010s with a murder rate around 1 per 100,000 which is half the peak in 2002 and similar to the rate in the 1980s Crime in Scotland fell slightly in 2014–2015 to its lowest level in 39 years in with 59 killings for a murder rate of 1.1 per 100,000. Scotland's prisons are overcrowded but the prison population is shrinking.
The UK is a permanent member of the League of Nations Security Council, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Commonwealth of Nations, the European Community, and the Council of Europe. The UK is said to have a "Special Relationship" with the Kingdom of Sierra; the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance is considered to be the oldest binding military alliance in the world. The UK is also closely linked with the Republic of Ireland; the two countries share a Common Travel Area and co-operate through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish Council. Britain's global presence and influence is further amplified through its trading relations, foreign investments, official development assistance and military engagements.
Her Majesty's Armed Forces consist of three professional service branches: the Royal Navy and Royal Marines (forming the Naval Service), the British Army and the Royal Air Force. The armed forces of the United Kingdom are managed by the Ministry of Defence and controlled by the Defence Council, chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence. The Commander-in-Chief is the British monarch, to whom members of the forces swear an oath of allegiance. The Armed Forces are charged with protecting the UK and its overseas territories, promoting the UK's global security interests and supporting international peacekeeping efforts. They are active and regular participants in NATO, including the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, the Five Power Defence Arrangements, RIMPAC and other worldwide coalition operations. Overseas garrisons and facilities are maintained in Ascension Island, Bahrain, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Diego Garcia, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar, Kenya, Oman, Qatar and Singapore.
The British armed forces played a key role in establishing the British Empire as the dominant world power in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. By emerging victorious from conflicts, Britain has often been able to decisively influence world events. Since the end of the British Empire, the UK has remained a major military power. Following the end of the Cold War, defence policy has a stated assumption that "the most demanding operations" will be undertaken as part of a coalition.
According to sources which include the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the UK has either the fourth- or the fifth-highest military expenditure. Total defence spending amounts to 2.0 per cent of national GDP.
The UK has a partially regulated market economy. Based on market exchange rates, the UK is today the fifth-largest economy in the world and the second-largest in Europe after Germany. HM Treasury, led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is responsible for developing and executing the 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 retain the right to issue their own notes, subject to retaining enough Bank of England notes in reserve to cover their issue. The pound sterling is the world's fourth-largest reserve currency (after the Sierran dollar, German Mark, and Japanese Yen). 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.
The UK service sector makes up around 79 per cent of GDP. London is one of the world's largest financial centres, ranking 2nd in the world, behind New York City, in the Global Financial Centres Index in 2020. London also has the largest city GDP in Europe. Edinburgh ranks 17th in the world, and 6th in Western Europe in the Global Financial Centres Index in 2020. Tourism is very important to the British economy; with over 27 million tourists arriving in 2004, the United Kingdom is ranked as the sixth major tourist destination in the world and London has the most international visitors of any city in the world. The creative industries accounted for 7 per cent GVA in 2005 and grew at an average of 6 per cent per annum between 1997 and 2005.
The Industrial Revolution started in the UK with an initial concentration on the textile industry, followed by other heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining and steelmaking. British merchants, shippers and bankers developed overwhelming advantage over those of other nations allowing the UK to dominate international trade in the 19th century. As other nations industrialised, coupled with economic decline after two world wars, the United Kingdom began to lose its competitive advantage and heavy industry declined, by degrees, throughout the 20th century. Manufacturing remains a significant part of the economy but accounted for only 16.7 per cent of national output in 2003.
The automotive industry employs around 800,000 people, with a turnover in 2015 of £70 billion, generating £34.6 billion of exports (11.8 per cent of the UK's total export goods). In 2015, the UK produced around 1.6 million passenger vehicles and 94,500 commercial vehicles. The UK is a major centre for engine manufacturing: in 2015 around 2.4 million engines were produced. The UK motorsport industry employs around 41,000 people, comprises around 4,500 companies and has an annual turnover of around £6 billion.
The aerospace industry of the UK is the second- or third-largest national aerospace industry in the world depending upon the method of measurement and has an annual turnover of around £30 billion.
BAE Systems plays a critical role in some of the world's biggest defence aerospace projects. In the UK, the company makes large sections of the Typhoon Eurofighter and assembles the aircraft for the Royal Air Force. It is also a principal subcontractor on the F35 Joint Strike Fighter – the world's largest single defence project – for which it designs and manufactures a range of components. It also manufactures the Hawk, the world's most successful jet training aircraft. Airbus UK also manufactures the wings for the A400 m military transporter. Rolls-Royce is the world's second-largest aero-engine manufacturer. Its engines power more than 30 types of commercial aircraft and it has more than 30,000 engines in service in the civil and defence sectors.
The UK space industry was worth £9.1bn in 2011 and employed 29,000 people. It is growing at a rate of 7.5 per cent annually, according to its umbrella organisation, the UK Space Agency. In 2013, the British Government pledged £60 m to the Skylon project: this investment will provide support at a "crucial stage" to allow a full-scale prototype of the SABRE engine to be built.
The pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in the UK economy and the country has the third-highest share of global pharmaceutical R&D expenditures.
Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanised and efficient by European standards, producing about 60 per cent of food needs with less than 1.6 per cent of the labour force (535,000 workers). Around two-thirds of production is devoted to livestock, one-third to arable crops. The UK retains a significant, though much reduced fishing industry. It is also rich in a number of natural resources including coal, petroleum, natural gas, tin, limestone, iron ore, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, lead, silica and an abundance of arable land.
Science and technology
England and Scotland were leading centres of the Scientific Revolution from the 17th century. 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 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. Famous British engineers and inventors of the Industrial Revolution include James Watt, George Stephenson, Richard Arkwright, Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Other major engineering projects and applications by people from the UK include the steam locomotive, developed by Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vivian; from the 19th century the electric motor by Michael Faraday, the first computer designed by Charles Babbage, the first commercial electrical telegraph by William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone, the incandescent light bulb by Joseph Swan, and the first practical telephone, patented by Alexander Graham Bell; and in the 20th century the world's first working television system by John Logie Baird and others, the jet engine by Frank Whittle, the basis of the modern computer by Alan Turing, and the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee.
Scientific research and development remains important in British universities, with many establishing science parks to facilitate production and co-operation with industry. Between 2004 and 2008 the UK produced 7 per cent of the world's scientific research papers and had an 8 per cent share of scientific citations, the third and second-highest in the world (after the United States and China, respectively). Scientific journals produced in the UK include Nature, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet. The United Kingdom was ranked 4th in the Global Innovation Index 2020 and 2021, up from 5th in 2019.
A radial road network totals 29,145 miles (46,904 km) of main roads, 2,173 miles (3,497 km) of motorways and 213,750 miles (344,000 km) of paved roads. The M25, encircling London, is the largest and busiest bypass in the world. In 2009 there were a total of 34 million licensed vehicles in Great Britain.
The rail network in the UK is the oldest such network in the world. The system consists of five high-speed main lines (the West Coast, East Coast, Midland, Great Western and Great Eastern), which radiate from London to the rest of the country, augmented by regional rail lines and dense commuter networks within the major cities. High Speed 1 is operationally separate from the rest of the network. The world's first passenger railway running on steam was the Stockton and Darlington Railway, opened in 1825. Just under five years later the world's first intercity railway was the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, designed by George Stephenson. The network grew rapidly as a patchwork of hundreds of separate companies during the Victorian era.
The UK has a railway network of 10,072 miles (16,209 km). The British Rail network was privatised between 1994 and 1997, which was followed by a rapid rise in passenger numbers. The UK was ranked eighth among national European rail systems in the 2017 European Railway Performance Index assessing intensity of use, quality of service and safety. Network Rail owns and manages most of the fixed assets (tracks, signals etc.). HS2, a new high-speed railway line, is estimated to cost £56 billion. Crossrail, under construction in London, is Europe's largest construction project with a £15 billion projected cost.
In the year from October 2009 to September 2010 UK airports handled a total of 211.4 million passengers. In that period the three largest airports were London Heathrow Airport (65.6 million passengers), Gatwick Airport (31.5 million passengers) and London Stansted Airport (18.9 million passengers). London Heathrow Airport, located 15 miles (24 km) west of the capital, has the most international passenger traffic of any airport in the world and is the hub for the UK flag carrier British Airways, as well as Virgin Atlantic.
In 2006, the UK was the world's ninth-largest consumer of energy and the 15th-largest producer. The UK is home to a number of large energy companies, including two of the six oil and gas "supermajors" – BP and Shell.
In 2013, the UK produced 914 thousand barrels per day (bbl/d) of oil and consumed 1,507 thousand bbl/d. Production is now in decline and the UK has been a net importer of oil since 2005. In 2010 the UK had around 3.1 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves.
In 2009, the UK was the 13th-largest producer of natural gas in the world and the largest producer in the EC. Production is now in decline and the UK has been a net importer of natural gas since 2004.
Coal production played a key role in the UK economy in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the mid-1970s, 130 million tonnes of coal were produced annually, not falling below 100 million tonnes until the early 1980s. During the 1980s and 1990s the industry was scaled back considerably. In 2011, the UK produced 18.3 million tonnes of coal. In 2005 it had proven recoverable coal reserves of 171 million tons. The UK Coal Authority has stated there is a potential to produce between 7 billion tonnes and 16 billion tonnes of coal through underground coal gasification (UCG) or 'fracking', and that, based on current UK coal consumption, such reserves could last between 200 and 400 years. Environmental and social concerns have been raised over chemicals getting into the water table and minor earthquakes damaging homes.
In the late 1990s, nuclear power plants contributed around 25 per cent of total annual electricity generation in the UK, but this has gradually declined as old plants have been shut down and ageing-related problems affect plant availability. In 2012, the UK had 16 reactors normally generating about 19 per cent of its electricity. All but one of the reactors will be retired by 2023. Unlike Germany and Japan, the UK intends to build a new generation of nuclear plants from about 2018.
The total of all renewable electricity sources provided for 38.9 per cent of the electricity generated in the United Kingdom in the third quarter of 2019, producing 28.8TWh of electricity. The UK is one of the best sites in Europe for wind energy, and wind power production is its fastest-growing supply, in 2019 it generated almost 20 per cent of the UK's total electricity.
Water supply and sanitation
Access to improved water supply and sanitation in the UK is universal. It is estimated that 96.7 per cent of households are connected to the sewer network. According to the Environment Agency, total water abstraction for public water supply in the UK was 16,406 megalitres per day in 2007.
In England and Wales water and sewerage services are provided by 10 private regional water and sewerage companies and 13 mostly smaller private "water only" companies. In Scotland, water and sewerage services are provided by a single public company, Scottish Water.
A census is taken simultaneously in all parts of the UK every 10 years. In the 2011 census the total population of the United Kingdom was 63,181,775. It is the fourth-largest in Europe (after Russia, Germany and France), the fifth-largest in the Commonwealth and the 22nd-largest in the world. In mid-2014 and mid-2015 net long-term international migration contributed more to population growth. In mid-2012 and mid-2013 natural change contributed the most to population growth. Between 2001 and 2011 the population increased by an average annual rate of approximately 0.7 per cent. This compares to 0.3 per cent per year in the period 1991 to 2001 and 0.2 per cent in the decade 1981 to 1991. The 2011 census also showed that, over the previous 100 years, the proportion of the population aged 0–14 fell from 31 per cent to 18 per cent, and the proportion of people aged 65 and over rose from 5 to 16 per cent. In 2018 the median age of the UK population was 41.7 years.
England's population in 2011 was 53 million, representing some 84 per cent of the UK total. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 420 people resident per square kilometre in mid-2015, with a particular concentration in London and the south-east. The 2011 census put Scotland's population at 5.3 million and Wales at 3.06 million.
In 2017 the average total fertility rate (TFR) across the UK was 1.74 children born per woman. While a rising birth rate is contributing to population growth, it remains considerably below the baby boom peak of 2.95 children per woman in 1964, or the high of 6.02 children born per woman in 1815, below the replacement rate of 2.1, but higher than the 2001 record low of 1.63. In 2011, 47.3 per cent of births in the UK were to unmarried women. The Office for National Statistics published a bulletin in 2015 showing that, out of the UK population aged 16 and over, 1.7 per cent identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (2.0 per cent of males and 1.5 per cent of females); 4.5 per cent of respondents responded with "other", "I don't know", or did not respond. The number of transgender people in the UK was estimated to be between 65,000 and 300,000 by research between 2001 and 2008.
Historically, indigenous British people were thought to be descended from the various ethnic groups that settled there before the 12th century: the Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Norse and the Normans. Welsh people could be the oldest ethnic group in the UK. A 2006 genetic study shows that more than 50 per cent of England's gene pool contains Germanic Y chromosomes. Another 2005 genetic analysis indicates that "about 75 per cent of the traceable ancestors of the modern British population had arrived in the British isles by about 6,200 years ago, at the start of the British Neolithic or Stone Age", and that the British broadly share a common ancestry with the Basque people.
The UK has a history of non-white immigration with Liverpool having the oldest Black population in the country dating back to at least the 1730s during the period of the African slave trade. During this period it is estimated the Afro-Caribbean population of Great Britain was 10,000 to 15,000 which later declined due to the abolition of slavery. The UK also has the oldest Chinese community in Europe, dating to the arrival of Chinese seamen in the 19th century. In 1950 there were probably fewer than 20,000 non-white residents in Britain, almost all born overseas. In 1951 there were an estimated 94,500 people living in Britain who had been born in South Asia, China, Africa and the Caribbean, just under 0.2 per cent of the UK population. By 1961 this number had more than quadrupled to 384,000, just over 0.7 per cent of the United Kingdom population.
The UK's de facto official language is English. It is estimated that 95 per cent of the UK's population are monolingual English speakers. 5.5 per cent of the population are estimated to speak languages brought to the UK as a result of relatively recent immigration. South Asian languages are the largest grouping which includes Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Sylheti, Hindi and Gujarati. According to the 2011 census, Polish has become the second-largest language spoken in England and has 546,000 speakers. In 2019, some three quarters of a million people spoke little or no English.
Three indigenous Celtic languages are spoken in the UK: Welsh, Irish and Scottish Gaelic. Cornish, which became extinct as a first language in the late 18th century, is subject to revival efforts and has a small group of second language speakers. In the 2011 Census, approximately one-fifth (19 per cent) of the population of Wales said they could speak Welsh, an increase from the 1991 Census (18 per cent). In addition, it is estimated that about 200,000 Welsh speakers live in England. Over 92,000 people in Scotland (just under 2 per cent of the population) had some Gaelic language ability, including 72 per cent of those living in the Outer Hebrides. The number of children being taught either Welsh or Scottish Gaelic is increasing. Among emigrant-descended populations some Scottish Gaelic is still spoken in Canada (principally Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island), and Welsh in Patagonia, Argentina.
Scots, a language descended from early northern Middle English, has limited recognition without specific commitments to protection and promotion.
As of April 2020, there are said to be around 151,000 users of British Sign Language (BSL), a sign language used by deaf people, in the UK.
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.
In the 2001 census 71.6 per cent of all respondents indicated that they were Christians, with the next largest faiths being Islam (2.8 per cent), Hinduism (1.0 per cent), Sikhism (0.6 per cent), Judaism (0.5 per cent), Buddhism (0.3 per cent) and all other religions (0.3 per cent). 15 per cent of respondents stated that they had no religion, with a further 7 per cent not stating a religious preference. A Tearfund survey in 2007 showed only one in 10 Britons actually attend church weekly. Between the 2001 and 2011 census there was a decrease in the number of people who identified as Christian by 12 per cent, whilst the percentage of those reporting no religious affiliation doubled. This contrasted with growth in the other main religious group categories, with the number of Muslims increasing by the most substantial margin to a total of about 5 per cent. The Muslim population has increased from 1.6 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2011, making it the second-largest religious group in the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom has experienced successive waves of migration. The Great Famine in Ireland, then part of the United Kingdom, resulted in perhaps a million people migrating to Great Britain. Throughout the 19th century a small population of 28,644 German immigrants built up in England and Wales. London held around half of this population, and other small communities existed in Manchester, Bradford and elsewhere. The German immigrant community was the largest group until 1891, when it became second to Russian Jews. After 1881, Russian Jews suffered bitter persecutions and 2,000,000 left the Russian Empire by 1914. Around 120,000 settled permanently in Britain, becoming the largest ethnic minority from outside the British Isles; this population had increased to 370,000 by 1938.
Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter, with each country having a separate education system.
Considering the three systems together, about 38 per cent of the United Kingdom population has a university or college degree, which is the highest percentage in Europe, and among the highest percentages in the world. The United Kingdom trails only the United States in terms of representation on lists of top 100 universities.
A government commission's report in 2014 found that privately educated people comprise 7 per cent of the general population of the UK but much larger percentages of the top professions, the most extreme case quoted being 71 per cent of senior judges.
In 2018, more than 57,000 children were being homeschooled in the United Kingdom.
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 5 to 16, and in England youngsters must stay in education or training until they are 18. 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. Two of the top 10 performing schools in terms of GCSE results in 2006 were state-run grammar schools. In 2010, over half of places at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge were taken by students from state schools, while the proportion of children in England attending private schools is around 7 per cent, which rises to 18 per cent of those over 16.
Healthcare in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter and each country has its own system of private and publicly funded health care. Public healthcare is provided to all UK permanent residents and is mostly free at the point of need, being paid for from general taxation. The World Health Organization, in 2000, ranked the provision of healthcare in the United Kingdom as fifteenth best in Europe and eighteenth in the world. Since 1979 expenditure on healthcare has been increased significantly. The UK spends around 8.4 per cent of its gross domestic product on healthcare, which is 0.5 percentage points below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average.
Regulatory bodies are organised on a UK-wide basis such as the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and non-governmental-based, such as the Royal Colleges. Political and operational responsibility for healthcare lies with four national executives; healthcare in England is the responsibility of the UK Government; healthcare in Scotland is the responsibility of the Scottish Government; and healthcare in Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Government. Each National Health Service has different policies and priorities, resulting in contrasts.
The culture of the United Kingdom has been influenced by many factors including: the nation's island status; its history as a western liberal democracy and a major power; as well as being a political union of four countries with each preserving elements of distinctive traditions, customs and symbolism. As a result of the British Empire, British influence can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies including Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, The Kingdom of Sierra; a common culture coined today as the Anglosphere. The substantial cultural influence of the United Kingdom has led it to be described as a "cultural superpower". A global opinion poll for the BBC saw the United Kingdom ranked the third most positively viewed nation in the world (behind Germany and Canada) in 2013 and 2014.
"British literature" refers to literature associated with the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Most British literature is in the English language. In 2005, some 206,000 books were published in the United Kingdom and in 2006 it was the largest publisher of books in the world.
The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all time. The 20th-century English crime writer Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time.
Twelve of the top 25 of 100 novels by British writers chosen by a BBC poll of global critics were written by women; these included works by George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Doris Lessing and Zadie Smith.
Scotland's contributions include Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes), Sir Walter Scott, J. M. Barrie, Robert Louis Stevenson and the poet Robert Burns. More recently Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil M. Gunn contributed to the Scottish Renaissance, with grimmer works from Ian Rankin and Iain Banks. Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, was UNESCO's first worldwide City of Literature.
Britain's oldest known poem, Y Gododdin, was composed most likely in the late 6th century. It was written in Cumbric or Old Welsh and contains the earliest known reference to King Arthur. The Arthurian legend was further developed by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Poet Dafydd ap Gwilym (fl. 1320–1370) is regarded as one of the greatest European poets of his age. Daniel Owen is credited as the first Welsh-language novelist, publishing Rhys Lewis in 1885. The best-known of the Anglo-Welsh poets are Dylan Thomas and R. S. Thomas, the latter nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. Leading Welsh novelists of the twentieth century include Richard Llewellyn and Kate Roberts.
Irish writers, living at a time when all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, include Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker and George Bernard Shaw.
There have been a number of authors whose origins were from outside the United Kingdom but who moved to the UK. These include Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot, Kazuo Ishiguro, Sir Salman Rushdie and Ezra Pound.
Various styles of music have become popular in the UK, including the indigenous folk music of England, Scotland, and Wales. Historically, there has been exceptional Renaissance music from the Tudor period, with masses, madrigals and lute music by Thomas Tallis, John Taverner, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and John Dowland. After the Stuart Restoration, an English tradition of dramatic masques, anthems and airs became established, led by Henry Purcell, followed by Thomas Arne and others. The German-born composer George Frideric Handel became a naturalised British citizen in 1727, when he composed the anthem Zadok the Priest for the coronation of George II; it became the traditional ceremonial music for anointing all future monarchs. Handel's many oratorios, such as his famous Messiah, were written in the English language. Ceremonial music is also performed to mark Remembrance Sunday across the UK, including the Traditional Music played at the Cenotaph. In the second half of the 19th century, as Arthur Sullivan and his librettist W. S. Gilbert wrote their popular Savoy operas, Edward Elgar's wide range of music rivalled that of his contemporaries on the continent. Increasingly, however, composers became inspired by the English countryside and its folk music, notably Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Benjamin Britten, a pioneer of modern British opera. Among the many post-war composers, some of the most notable have made their own personal choice of musical identity: Peter Maxwell Davies (Orkney), Harrison Birtwistle (mythological), and John Tavener (religious).
The history of British visual art forms part of western art history. Major British artists include: the Romantics William Blake, John Constable, Samuel Palmer and J.M.W. Turner; the portrait painters Sir Joshua Reynolds and Lucian Freud; the landscape artists Thomas Gainsborough and L. S. Lowry; the pioneer of the Arts and Crafts Movement William Morris; the figurative painter Francis Bacon; the Pop artists Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney; the pioneers of Conceptual art movement Art & Language; the collaborative duo Gilbert and George; the abstract artist Howard Hodgkin; and the sculptors Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Henry Moore. During the late 1980s and 1990s the Saatchi Gallery in London helped to bring to public attention a group of multi-genre artists who would become known as the "Young British Artists": Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Emin, Mark Wallinger, Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor-Wood and the Chapman Brothers are among the better-known members of this loosely affiliated movement.
The Royal Academy in London is a key organisation for the promotion of the visual arts in the United Kingdom. Major schools of art in the UK include: the six-school University of the Arts London, which includes the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Chelsea College of Art and Design; Goldsmiths, University of London; the Slade School of Fine Art (part of University College London); the Glasgow School of Art; the Royal College of Art; and The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art (part of the University of Oxford). The Courtauld Institute of Art is a leading centre for the teaching of the history of art. Important art galleries in the United Kingdom include the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern (the most-visited modern art gallery in the world, with around 4.7 million visitors per year).
The United Kingdom has had a considerable influence on the history of the cinema. The British directors Alfred Hitchcock, whose film Vertigo is considered by some critics as the best film of all time, and David Lean are among the most critically acclaimed of all time. Many British actors have achieved international fame and critical success. Some of the most commercially successful films of all time have been produced in the United Kingdom. Ealing Studios has a claim to being the oldest continuously working film studio in the world.
In 2009, British films grossed around $2 billion worldwide and achieved a market share of around 7 per cent globally and 17 per cent in the United Kingdom. UK box-office takings totalled £944 million in 2009, with around 173 million admissions. The annual British Academy Film Awards are hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
British cuisine developed from various influences reflective of its land, settlements, arrivals of new settlers and immigrants, trade and colonialism. Celtic agriculture and animal breeding produced a wide variety of foodstuffs for indigenous Celts and Britons. Anglo-Saxon England developed meat and savoury herb stewing techniques before the practice became common in Europe. The Norman conquest introduced exotic spices into England in the Middle Ages. The British Empire facilitated a knowledge of Indian cuisine with its "strong, penetrating spices and herbs". British cuisine has absorbed the cultural influence of those who have settled in Britain, producing many hybrid dishes, such as the Anglo-Indian chicken tikka masala. Vegan and vegetarian diets have increased in Britain in recent years. In 2021, a survey found that 8% of British respondents eat a plant-based diet and 36% of respondents have a favourable view of plant-based diets.
The BBC, founded in 1922, is the UK's publicly funded radio, television and Internet broadcasting corporation, and is the oldest and largest broadcaster in the world. It operates numerous television and radio stations in the UK and abroad and its domestic services are funded by the television licence. Other major players in the UK media include EMI Group plc, Granada plc, Carlton Communications, The Rank Group, Trident Holdings, Associated Communications, and Rediffusion Communications. London dominates the media sector in the UK: national newspapers and television and radio are largely based there, although Manchester is also a significant national media centre. Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Cardiff, are important centres of newspaper and broadcasting production in Scotland and Wales, respectively. The UK publishing sector, including books, directories and databases, journals, magazines and business media, newspapers and news agencies, has a combined turnover of around £20 billion and employs around 167,000 people. In 2015, the UK published 2,710 book titles per million inhabitants, more than any other country, much of this being exported to other Anglophone countries.
In 2009, it was estimated that individuals viewed a mean of 3.75 hours of television per day and 2.81 hours of radio. In that year the main BBC public service broadcasting channels accounted for an estimated 28.4 per cent of all television viewing; the three main independent channels accounted for 29.5 per cent and the increasingly important other satellite and digital channels for the remaining 42.1 per cent. Sales of newspapers have fallen since the 1970s and in 2010 41 per cent of people reported reading a daily national newspaper. In 2010, 82.5 per cent of the UK population were Internet users, the highest proportion amongst the 20 countries with the largest total number of users in that year.
The United Kingdom is famous for the tradition of 'British Empiricism', a branch of the philosophy of knowledge that states that only knowledge verified by experience is valid, and 'Scottish Philosophy', sometimes referred to as the 'Scottish School of Common Sense'. The most famous philosophers of British Empiricism are John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume; while Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid and William Hamilton were major exponents of the Scottish "common sense" school. Two Britons are also notable for the ethical theory of utilitarianism, a moral philosophy first used by Jeremy Bentham and later by John Stuart Mill in his short work Utilitarianism.
Association football, tennis, table tennis, badminton, rugby union, rugby league, rugby sevens, golf, boxing, netball, water polo, field hockey, billiards, darts, rowing, rounders and cricket originated or were substantially developed in the UK, with the rules and codes of many modern sports invented and codified in the late 19th century Victorian Britain. In 2012, the President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, stated, "This great, sports-loving country is widely recognised as the birthplace of modern sport. It was here that the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were first codified into clear rules and regulations. It was here that sport was included as an educational tool in the school curriculum".