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Last update: April 2008

United Kingdom

Country Profile

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Full Country Name:

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Area:

244,820m sq km (152,124 sq milles). The United Kingdom is the world's seventy eighth largest country. The Union comprises four 'home nations': England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It occupies all of the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern portion of the island of Ireland and most of the remaining British Isles.

Population and Education:

Population

The United Kingdom is the world's twenty second most populous country. In 2010 the UK was home to 61.827 million people, of which 51.8 million lived in England. It is the third-largest in the European Union (behind Germany and metropolitan France).

The UK has a growing population. Due to the rising levels of immigration and birth rates among the population, the UK is set to reach 70 million by 2027.

Education

The United Kingdoms high literacy rate (99%) is attributable to universal public education introduced for the primary level in 1870 and secondary level in 1900.  The United Kingdom has a well-established higher education sector, containing some of the finest and most prestigious universities in the world.

Capital City:

The capital city of the United Kingdom (and the largest city of the UK and Europe) is London - with about 7.75 million.

Languages:

Whilst the UK does not have an official language, the predominant tongue is English. This is a West Germanic language, descended from Old English, which features a large number of borrowings from Norman French. The other main indigenous languages are the Insular Celtic languages, i.e. the Celtic languages of the British Isles. These fall into two groups: the P-Celtic languages (Welsh and the Cornish language); and the Q-Celtic languages (Irish and Scottish Gaelic).

The English language has spread to all corners of the world (primarily because of the British Empire) and is referred to as a "global language". Worldwide, it is taught as a second language more than any other. The United Kingdom's Celtic languages are also spoken by small groups around the globe, mainly Gaelic in Nova Scotia, Canada and Welsh in Patagonia, Argentina.

Additional indigenous languages are Scots (which is closely related to English); Romany; and British Sign Language (Northern Ireland Sign Language is also used in Northern Ireland). Celtic dialectal influences from Cumbric persisted in Northern England for many centuries, most famously in a unique set of numbers used for counting sheep.

Recent immigrants, especially from the Commonwealth, speak many other languages, including Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Cantonese, Turkish and Polish. The United Kingdom has the largest number of Hindi and Punjabi speakers outside of Asia.

Religions:

Christianity is the main religion in Great Britain. Christian 71.6% (of which Anglican 29%, Roman Catholic 11%, Orthodox 0.9%), Muslim 2.7%, Hindu 1%, Sikh 0.6%, Jewish 0.5%, non-religious 15.5%, other 8.1%.

Currency:

1 pound sterling = 100 pence,
100,000 pound sterling = 1 Hundred thousand pound sterling,
10 Hundred Thousand pound sterling = 1 Million pound sterling,
1000 Million pound sterling = 1 Billion pound sterling

Dialling code from foreign country

00 44

Weights & Measures

Since 1965 the United Kingdom has been adopting metric weights and measures in response to the adoption of metric units as the international system of measurement.

When the UK joined the European Community in 1973, we agreed to complete our metric changes by no later than the deadlines to be agreed in EC Directives. A 1989 Directive set a date of 31 December 1999 for all lose goods to be sold in metric measurements.

Metric units of measurement are now used for most transactions regulated by the Weights and Measures Act 1985. In addition, it is Government policy to encourage the adoption of the metric system for other purposes, including public administration.

Major political parties:

Alliance Party,
Conservative Party,
Conservative Party in Scotland,
Conservative Party in Wales,
Conservative Party in the European Parliament,
Democratic Unionist Party,
Green Party,
Green Party in Scotland,
Green Party in Wales,
Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern,
Labour Party,
Labour Party in Scotland,
Labour Party in Wales,
Labour Party in the European Parliament,
Liberal Democrats,
Liberal Democrats in Scotland,
Liberal Democrats in Wales,
Plaid Cymru,
Respect - The Unity Coalition,
Scottish National Party,
Scottish Socialist Party,
Sinn Fein,
Social Democratic and Labour Party,
UK Independence Party,
UK Unionist Party,
Ulster Unionist Party

Government:

Coalition Government
Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government
(Since May 2010)

Head of State:

Queen Elizabeth II
(Crowned in 1953)

Prime Minister:

Prime Minister David Cameron MP
Leader of the Conservative Party
(Since May 2010)

Foreign Minister:

William Hague MP 
(Since May 2010)

Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition

Ed Miliband MP
Leader of the Labour Party
(Since September 2010)


Speaker of the House

John Bercow MP
(Since June 2009)

 

Membership of international groupings/organisations:

Active membership of the United Nations, European Union, The Commonwealth of Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Western European Union, The Group of Eight, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Council of Europe and other International Bodies.

Geography

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or UK, is in Western Europe. It comprises the island of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and the Northeastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland (Northern Ireland), together with many smaller islands. The mainland areas lie between latitudes 49N and 59N (the Shetland Islands reach to nearly 61N), and longitudes 8W to 2E. The Royal Greenwich Observatory, near London, is the defining point of the Prime Meridian. The United Kingdom has a total area of approximately 245,000 km.

The UK lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, and comes within 35 km (22 miles) of the northwest coast of France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. Northern Ireland shares a 360 km international land boundary with the Republic of Ireland. The Channel Tunnel ("Chunnel"), bored beneath the English Channel, now links the UK with France.

Most of England consists of rolling lowland terrain, divided east from west by more mountainous terrain in the Northwest (Cumbrian Mountains of the Lake District) and north (the upland moors of the Pennines) and limestone hills of the Peak District by the Tees-Exe line. The lower limestone hills of the Isle of Purbeck, Cotswolds, Lincolnshire and chalk downs of the Southern England Chalk Formation. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and the Humber Estuary. The largest urban area is Greater London. Near Dover, the Channel Tunnel links the United Kingdom with France. There is no peak in England that is 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) or greater, the highest mountain being Scafell Pike in England's Lake District, at some 978m (3,208 ft).

Scotland's geography is varied, with lowlands in the south and east and highlands in the north and west, including Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles at 1,343 metres (4,406 ft). There are many long and deep-sea arms, firths, and lochs. Scotland has nearly 800 islands, mainly west and north of the mainland, notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. The capital city is Edinburgh, the centre of which is a World Heritage Site. The largest city is Glasgow.

Wales (Cymru in Welsh) is mostly mountainous, the highest peak being Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) at 1,085 metres (3,560 ft) above sea level. North of the mainland is the island of Anglesey (Ynys Mn). The largest and capital city is Cardiff (Caerdydd); it has been the Welsh Capital city since 1955, located in South Wales. The greatest concentration of people live in the south, in the cities of Swansea and Newport, as well as Cardiff, and the South Wales Valleys. The largest town in North Wales is Wrexham.

Northern Ireland, making up the north-eastern part of Ireland, is mostly hilly. The capital is Belfast ('Bal Feirste' in Irish), with other major cities being Londonderry/Derry ('Doire' in Irish) and Armagh. The province is home to one of the UK's World Heritage Sites, the Giant's Causeway, which consists of more than 40,000 six-sided basalt columns up to 40 feet (12 m) high. Lough Neagh, the largest body of water in the British Isles, by surface area (388 km / 150 mi), can be found in Northern Ireland. The highest peak is Slieve Donard at 849m (2,786 ft) in the province's Mourne Mountains.

Politics

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, with executive power exercised on behalf of the monarch by the prime minister and other cabinet ministers who head departments. The cabinet, including the prime minister, and other ministers collectively make up Her Majesty's Government. These ministers are drawn from and are responsible to Parliament, the legislative body, which is traditionally considered to be "supreme" (that is, able to legislate on any matter and not bound by decisions of its predecessors). The United Kingdom is one of the few countries in the world today that does not have a codified constitution, relying instead on traditional customs and separate pieces of constitutional law.

While the monarch is head of state and theoretically holds all executive power, it is the prime minister who is the head of government. The government is answerable chiefly to the House of Commons, from which constitutional convention requires that the prime minister be drawn. The majority of cabinet members are from the House of Commons, the rest from the House of Lords. Ministers do not, however, legally have to come from Parliament, though that is the modern day custom. The British system of government has been emulated around the world - a legacy of the British Empire's colonial past - most notably in the other Commonwealth Realms. The Member of Parliament (MP) who commands a majority in the House of Commons is normally appointed prime minister - usually the leader of the largest party or, if there is no majority party, the largest coalition. The current prime minister is Gordon Brown of the Labour Party, who has been in office since 2007.

Elections

United Kingdom general elections are the elections held when the Members of Parliament (MPs) forming the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom are elected. Following the Parliament Act 1911, parliamentary sessions last a maximum of five years, and are ended with the dissolution of Parliament. Therefore elections are not fixed, and the time is chosen by the governing party to maximise political advantage. The next election is due on or before 7th May 2015.

 

Last update: January 2012

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