Country Spotlight: UNITED KINGDOM

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QUICK FACTS

Full name: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Capital city: London
Population: 66,040,229 (30 June 2017)
GDP in current prices: USD $2,808.90 billion (2018)
GDP real growth: 1.4% (2018)
Area: 242,495 km²
Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Monarch: Queen Elizabeth II
Prime Minister: Boris Johnson
Currency: Pound Sterling (£) (GBP)
HDI: 14th (2018)
Ease of doing business index: 9th (2018/19)
Time zone: GMT +0
Dialling code: 44

The United Kingdom, more commonly referred to simply as the UK, is a sovereign country in the northwest of Europe, separated from the European mainland by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. To the west lies the Irish Sea and the island of Ireland, which incorporates Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the Atlantic Ocean.

The UK was the world’s first industrialised country and, with a strong naval history dating back to the 16th century, became a world leader as the British Empire spread to become the largest empire in history during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of its former colonies gained independence during the latter part of last century, but remain members of the Commonwealth of Nations, a political association with 53 member states, the majority of which are former British territories. The UK is a founder member of the United Nations and a permanent member of its Security Council since 1946. It has also been a member of the EU/EEC since 1973 but is currently embroiled in protracted negotiations to leave the EU on 31 October 2019. 

The UK is actually a union of four countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is the name of the largest island in the UK (and also Europe) with an area of 229,848 km² of which roughly 57% is England, 34% Scotland and 9% Wales. Wales was formally annexed into the Kingdom of England in 1535. The Kingdom of Ireland was officially created in 1542 by an Act of the Irish Parliament recognising the English monarchy, although the two countries remained separate. 

Following a union of crowns in 1603, Scotland and England joined together in a Treaty of Union in 1707 to create the Kingdom of Great Britain. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was officially enacted on 1 January 1801 after the British and Irish parliaments passed their acts of union in 1800. 

However, subsequent events in Ireland led to the partition of Ireland in 1921 and the creation of the Irish Free State on 5 December 1922, while the six historical counties of Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom.

Administration 

The UK’s capital is London, which has a population of around 8.9 million and is one of the main financial centres and cultural capitals of the world. It is also home to the UK parliament which is based in the Palace of Westminster and has two houses: the House of Commons, which has 650 members elected by popular vote, and an appointed House of Lords. 

Of the 650 UK parliamentary constituencies, 519 are in England (of which 14 are in Greater London), 73 are in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland. In addition, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast respectively, each with their own education and healthcare administrations and other varying powers. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II who is the longest-serving English monarch, having reigned since 6 February 1952. 

Economy 

The UK has the fifth largest economy behind the US, China, Japan and Germany; but whilst the economy grew by 1.4% in 2018, the rate of real GDP growth has declined every year since 2014 and the economy is forecast to be overtaken by India within the next year. Services account for 79% of GDP, Industry 21% and Agriculture less than 1%. 

The UK has a rich cultural and historic heritage. Being a primarily liberal democracy, creative arts and fashions have flourished and contributed enormously to global music, literature, visual art and cinema. In 2008, Liverpool – home of the Beatles who were the most influential and successful popular music band of the 20th century – was named European Capital of Culture, while Glasgow was only the third city to be awarded the title of UNESCO City of Music, with Liverpool receiving the same accolade in 2014. England is also home to two of the world’s five oldest surviving universities – the Universities of Oxford (from 1096) and Cambridge (founded 1209).

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