United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Background Note: United Kingdom
243,000 sq. km. (93,000 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Oregon.
(metropolitan pop. about 7.2 million). Other cities--Birmingham, Glasgow,
Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Bradford, Manchester, Edinburgh, Bristol, Belfast.
30% arable, 50% meadow and pasture, 12% waste or urban, 7% forested, 1% inland
Land use: 25% arable, 46% meadows and pastures, 10% forests and woodland,
Climate: Generally mild and temperate; weather is subject to frequent
changes but to few extremes of temperature.
Population (2004 est.):
Annual population growth rate (2004 est.): 0.29%.
groups: British, Irish, West Indian, South Asian.
Major religions: Church of
England (Anglican), Roman Catholic, Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), Muslim.
languages: English, Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic.
compulsory--12. Attendance--nearly 100%. Literacy--99%.
Infant mortality rate (2004 est.)--5.22/1,000. Life expectancy (2004
est.)--males 75.84 yrs.; females 80.83 yrs.; total 78.27 years
Work force (2003,
29.8 million): Services--80.4%; industry--18.7%; agriculture--0.9%.
Constitution: Unwritten; partly statutes, partly common law and practice.
Executive--monarch (head of state), prime minister (head of government),
cabinet. Legislative--bicameral Parliament: House of Commons, House of
Lords; Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and Northern Ireland Assembly. Judicial--magistrates'
courts, county courts, high courts, appellate courts, House of Lords.
Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland (municipalities, counties, and parliamentary
Political parties: Great Britain--Conservative, Labour, Liberal
Democrats; also, in Scotland--Scottish National Party. Wales--Plaid Cymru (Party
of Wales). Northern Ireland--Ulster Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour
Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, Alliance Party, and other smaller
Suffrage: British subjects and citizens of other Commonwealth countries
and the Irish Republic resident in the U.K., at 18.
GDP (at current market prices, 2003 est.): $1.664 trillion.
rate (2003 est.): 2.1%.
Per capita GDP (2003 est.): $27,700.
Coal, oil, natural gas, tin, limestone, iron ore, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, lead,
Agriculture (1.1% of GDP): Products--cereals, oilseed, potatoes,
vegetables, cattle, sheep, poultry, fish.
Industry: Types--steel, heavy
engineering and metal manufacturing, textiles, motor vehicles and aircraft, construction
(5.2% of GDP), electronics, chemicals.
Trade (2003 est.): Exports of goods
and services--$304.5 billion: manufactured goods, fuels, chemicals; food,
beverages, tobacco. Major markets--U.S., European Union. Imports of
goods and services--$363.6 billion: manufactured goods, machinery, fuels,
foodstuffs. Major suppliers--U.S., European Union, Japan.
United Kingdom's population in 2004 surpassed 60 million--the third-largest
in the European Union and the 21st-largest in the world. Its overall population
density is one of the highest in the world. Almost one-third of the population
lives in England's prosperous and fertile southeast and is predominantly urban
and suburban--with about 7.2 million in the capital of London, which remains the
largest city in Europe. The United Kingdom's high literacy rate (99%) is attributable
to universal public education introduced for the primary level in 1870 and secondary
level in 1900. Education is mandatory from ages 5 through 16. About one-fifth
of British students go on to post-secondary education. The Church of England and
the Church of Scotland are the official churches in their respective parts of
the country, but most religions found in the world are represented in the United
A group of islands close to continental
Europe, the British Isles have been subject to many invasions and migrations,
especially from Scandinavia and the continent, including Roman occupation for
several centuries. Contemporary Britons are descended mainly from the varied ethnic
stocks that settled there before the 11th century. The pre-Celtic, Celtic, Roman,
Anglo-Saxon, and Norse influences were blended in Britain under the Normans, Scandinavian
Vikings who had lived in Northern France. Although Celtic languages persist in
Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, the predominant language is English, which
is primarily a blend of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French.
Roman invasion of Britain in 55 BC and most of Britain's subsequent incorporation
into the Roman Empire stimulated development and brought more active contacts
with the rest of Europe. As Rome's strength declined, the country again was exposed
to invasion--including the pivotal incursions of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes
in the fifth and sixth centuries AD--up to the Norman conquest in 1066. Norman
rule effectively ensured Britain's safety from further intrusions; certain institutions,
which remain characteristic of Britain, could develop. Among these are a political,
administrative, cultural, and economic center in London; a separate but established
church; a system of common law; distinctive and distinguished university education;
and representative government.
Wales and Scotland were independent kingdoms that resisted English rule. The English
conquest of Wales succeeded in 1282 under Edward I, and the Statute of Rhuddlan
established English rule 2 years later. To appease the Welsh, Edward's son (later
Edward II), who had been born in Wales, was made Prince of Wales in 1301. The
tradition of bestowing this title on the eldest son of the British Monarch continues
today. An act of 1536 completed the political and administrative union of England
While maintaining separate parliaments,
England and Scotland were ruled under one crown beginning in 1603, when James
VI of Scotland succeeded his cousin Elizabeth I as James I of England. In the
ensuing 100 years, strong religious and political differences divided the kingdoms.
Finally, in 1707, England and Scotland were unified as Great Britain, sharing
a single Parliament at Westminster.
invasion by the Anglo-Normans in 1170 led to centuries of strife. Successive English
kings sought to conquer Ireland. In the early 17th century, large-scale settlement
of the north from Scotland and England began. After its defeat, Ireland was subjected,
with varying degrees of success, to control and regulation by Britain.
legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland was completed on January 1, 1801,
under the name of the United Kingdom. However, armed struggle for independence
continued sporadically into the 20th century. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 established
the Irish Free State, which subsequently left the Commonwealth and became a republic
after World War II. Six northern, predominantly Protestant, Irish counties have
remained part of the United Kingdom.
Expansion and Empire
Begun initially to support William the Conqueror's
(c. 1029-1087) holdings in France, Britain's policy of active involvement in continental
European affairs endured for several hundred years. By the end of the 14th century,
foreign trade, originally based on wool exports to Europe, had emerged as a cornerstone
of national policy.
The foundations of sea
power were gradually laid to protect English trade and open up new routes. Defeat
of the Spanish Armada in 1588 firmly established England as a major sea power.
Thereafter, its interests outside Europe grew steadily. Attracted by the spice
trade, English mercantile interests spread first to the Far East. In search of
an alternate route to the Spice Islands, John Cabot reached the North American
continent in 1498. Sir Walter Raleigh organized the first, short-lived colony
in Virginia in 1584, and permanent English settlement began in 1607 at Jamestown,
Virginia. During the next two centuries, Britain extended its influence abroad
and consolidated its political development at home.
Britain's industrial revolution greatly strengthened its ability to oppose Napoleonic
France. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the United Kingdom was the
foremost European power, and its navy ruled the seas. Peace in Europe allowed
the British to focus their interests on more remote parts of the world, and, during
this period, the British Empire reached its zenith. British colonial expansion
reached its height largely during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Queen
Victoria's reign witnessed the spread of British technology, commerce, language,
and government throughout the British Empire, which, at its greatest extent, encompassed
roughly one-fifth to one-quarter of the world's area and population. British colonies
contributed to the United Kingdom's extraordinary economic growth and strengthened
its voice in world affairs. Even as the United Kingdom extended its imperial reach
overseas, it continued to develop and broaden its democratic institutions at home.
By the time of Queen
Victoria's death in 1901, other nations, including the United States and Germany,
had developed their own industries; the United Kingdom's comparative economic
advantage had lessened, and the ambitions of its rivals had grown. The losses
and destruction of World War I, the depression of the 1930s, and decades of relatively
slow growth eroded the United Kingdom's preeminent international position of the
Britain's control over
its empire loosened during the interwar period. Ireland, with the exception of
six northern counties, gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1921. Nationalism
became stronger in other parts of the empire, particularly in India and Egypt.
In 1926, the United Kingdom, completing
a process begun a century earlier, granted Australia, Canada, and New Zealand
complete autonomy within the empire. They became charter members of the British
Commonwealth of Nations (now known as the Commonwealth), an informal but closely-knit
association that succeeded the empire. Beginning with the independence of India
and Pakistan in 1947, the remainder of the British Empire was almost completely
dismantled. Today, most of Britain's former colonies belong to the Commonwealth,
almost all of them as independent members. There are, however, 13 former British
colonies--including Bermuda, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, and others--which
have elected to continue their political links with London and are known as United
Kingdom Overseas Territories.
marked by economic and political nationalism, the Commonwealth offers the United
Kingdom a voice in matters concerning many developing countries. In addition,
the Commonwealth helps preserve many institutions deriving from British experience
and models, such as parliamentary democracy, in those countries.
United Kingdom does not have a written constitution. The equivalent body of law
is based on statute, common law, and "traditional rights." Changes may come about
formally through new acts of Parliament, informally through the acceptance of
new practices and usage, or by judicial precedents. Although Parliament has the
theoretical power to make or repeal any law, in actual practice the weight of
700 years of tradition restrains arbitrary actions.
power rests nominally with the monarch but actually is exercised by a committee
of ministers (cabinet) traditionally selected from among the members of the House
of Commons and, to a lesser extent, the House of Lords. The prime minister is
normally the leader of the largest party in the Commons, and the government is
dependent on its support.
the entire country and can legislate for the whole or for any constituent part
or combination of parts. The maximum parliamentary term is 5 years, but the prime
minister may ask the monarch to dissolve Parliament and call a general election
at any time. The focus of legislative power is the 646-member House of Commons,
which has sole jurisdiction over finance. The House of Lords, although shorn of
most of its powers, can still review, amend, or delay temporarily any bills except
those relating to the budget. The House of Lords has more time than the House
of Commons to pursue one of its more important functions--debating public issues.
In 1999, the government removed the automatic right of hereditary peers to hold
seats in the House of Lords. The current house consists of appointed life peers
who hold their seats for life and 92 hereditary peers who will hold their seats
only until final reforms have been agreed upon and implemented. The judiciary
is independent of the legislative and executive branches but cannot review the
constitutionality of legislation.
identities of each of the United Kingdom's constituent parts are also reflected
in their respective governmental structures. Up until the recent devolution of
power to Scotland and Wales, a cabinet minister (the Secretary of State for Wales)
handled Welsh affairs at the national level with the advice of a broadly representative
council for Wales. Scotland maintains, as it did before union with England, different
systems of law (Roman-French), education, local government, judiciary, and national
church (the Church of Scotland instead of the Church of England). In addition,
separate departments grouped under a Secretary of State for Scotland, who also
is a cabinet member, handled most domestic matters. In late 1997, however, following
approval of referenda by Scottish and Welsh voters (though only narrowly in Wales),
the British Government introduced legislation to establish a Scottish Parliament
and a Welsh Assembly. The first elections for the two bodies were held May 6,
1999. The Welsh Assembly opened on May 26, and the Scottish Parliament opened
on July 1, 1999. The devolved legislatures have largely taken over most of the
functions previously performed by the Scottish and Welsh offices.
Ireland had its own Parliament and prime minister from 1921 to 1973, when the
British Government imposed direct rule in order to deal with the deteriorating
political and security situation. From 1973, the Secretary of State for Northern
Ireland, based in London, was responsible for the region, including efforts to
resolve the issues that lay behind the "the troubles."
the mid-1990s, gestures toward peace encouraged by successive British governments
and by President Clinton began to open the door for restored local government
in Northern Ireland. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) cease-fire and nearly 2 years
of multiparty negotiations, led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, resulted
in the Good Friday Agreement of April 10, 1998, which was subsequently approved
by majorities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Key elements
of the agreement include devolved government, a commitment of the parties to work
toward "total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations," police reform, and
enhanced mechanisms to guarantee human rights and equal opportunity. The Good
Friday Agreement also called for formal cooperation between the Northern Ireland
institutions and the Government of the Republic of Ireland, and it established
the British-Irish Council, which includes representatives of the British and Irish
Governments as well as the devolved Governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland,
and Wales. Devolved government was reestablished in Northern Ireland in December
The Good Friday Agreement provides
for a 108-member elected Assembly, overseen by a 12-minister Executive Committee
(cabinet) in which unionists and nationalists share leadership responsibility.
Northern Ireland elects 18 representatives to the Westminster Parliament in London.
However, the five Sinn Fein Members of Parliament (MPs), who won seats in the
last election, have refused to claim their seats.
has been made on each of the key elements of the Good Friday Agreement. Most notably,
a new police force has been instituted; the IRA has undertaken two acts of decommissioning
of its weapons, and some measures to normalize the security situation in Northern
Ireland have been taken. Disagreements over the implementation of elements of
the agreement and allegations about the IRA's continued engagement in paramilitary
activity, however, continue to trouble the peace process. In October 2002, Northern
Ireland's devolved institutions were suspended amid allegations of IRA intelligence
gathering at Stormont, the seat of Northern Ireland's government. Assembly elections
scheduled for May 2003 were postponed. Elections were held in November 2003, but
the Assembly remains suspended. The British Government is working closely with
the Irish Government and Northern Ireland political parties to create the conditions
that would allow the restoration of devolved government to take place.
United States remains firmly committed to the peace process in Northern Ireland
and to the Good Friday Agreement, which it views as the best means to ensure lasting
peace. The United States has condemned all acts of terrorism and violence, perpetrated
by any group.
The United States also is
committed to Northern Ireland's economic development and to date has given or
pledged contributions of more than $300 million to the International Fund for
Ireland. The fund provides grants and loans to businesses to improve the economy,
redress inequalities of employment opportunity, and improve cross-border business
and community ties.
Head of State--Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
(Head of Government)--The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP
Secretary of State for Foreign
and Commonwealth Affairs--The Rt. Hon. Margaret Beckett, MP
Ambassador to the
U.S.--Sir David Manning
Ambassador to the UN--Sir Emyr Jones Parry, KCMG
United Kingdom maintains an embassy in the United States
at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-588-6500; fax 202-588-7870).
Tony Blair became the first Labour Prime Minister ever to win a third
consecutive term when he was re-elected on May 5, 2005. Labour has a 67-seat majority
in the House of Commons. The Conservative (Tory) Party and Liberal-Democrats (LibDems)
form the major opposition parties. The main British parties support a strong transatlantic
link but have become increasingly absorbed by European issues as Britain's economic
and political ties to the continent grow in the post-Cold War world. Prime Minister
Blair has promised that the United Kingdom will play a leading role in Europe
even as it maintains its strong bilateral relationship with the United States.
Britain's relationship with Europe, in particular its potential participation
in the single European currency, the euro, is a subject of considerable political
discussion in the United Kingdom. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has
stipulated that a referendum on adopting the euro will occur only after five economic
tests are met.
United Kingdom has the fourth-largest economy in the world, is the second-largest
economy in the European Union, and is a major international trading power. A highly
developed, diversified, market-based economy with extensive social welfare services
provides most residents with a high standard of living. London ranks with New
York as a leading international financial center.
1979, the British Government has privatized most state-owned companies, including
British Steel, British Airways, British Telecom, British Coal, British Aerospace,
and British Gas, although in some cases the government retains a "golden share"
in these companies. The Labour government has continued the privatization policy
of its predecessor, including by encouraging "public-private partnerships" (partial
privatization) in such areas as the National Air Traffic Control System.
United Kingdom is the European Union’s only significant energy exporter. It is
also one of the world’s largest energy consumers, and most analysts predict a
shift in U.K. status from net exporter to net importer of energy by 2020, possibly
sooner. Oil production in the U.K. is leveling off. While North Sea natural gas
production continues to rise, gains may be offset by ever-increasing consumption.
North Sea oil and gas exploration activities are shifting to smaller fields and
to increments of larger, developed fields, presenting opportunities for smaller,
independent energy operators to become active in North Sea production.
AND FOREIGN RELATIONS
The United Kingdom is a founding member of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and is one of NATO's major European maritime,
air, and land powers; it ranks third among NATO countries in total defense expenditure.
The United Kingdom has been a member of the European Community (now European Union)
since 1973. In the United Nations, the United Kingdom is a permanent member of
the Security Council. The U.K. held the Presidency of the G-8 during 2005; it
held the EU Presidency from July to December 2005.
British Armed Forces are charged with protecting the United Kingdom and its overseas
territories, promoting Britain's wider security interests, and supporting international
peacekeeping efforts. The 42,000-member Royal Navy is in charge of the United
Kingdom's independent strategic nuclear arm, which consists of four Trident missile
submarines. The Royal Marines provide commando units for amphibious assault and
for specialist reinforcement forces in and beyond the NATO area. The British Army--with
a reported strength of 110,000 in 2001, including 7,600 women--and the Royal Air
Force--with a strength of 54,000--along with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines,
are active and regular participants in NATO and other coalition operations.
United Kingdom stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States following the
September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., and its military forces participated
in the war in Afghanistan. The U.K. was the United States' main coalition partner
in Operation Iraqi Freedom and continues to have more than 8,000 troops deployed
in Iraq to help stabilize and rebuild the country. Under UN Security Council Resolution
1483, the U.K. also shared with the United States responsibility for civil administration
in Iraq and was an active participant in the Coalition Provisional Authority before
the handover of Iraqi sovereignty on June 28, 2004. Britain's participation in
the Iraq war and its aftermath remains a domestically controversial issue.
The United Kingdom is one of the United States' closest
allies, and British foreign policy emphasizes close coordination with the United
States. Bilateral cooperation reflects the common language, ideals, and democratic
practices of the two nations. Relations were strengthened by the United Kingdom's
alliance with the United States during both World Wars, and its role as a founding
member of NATO, in the Korean conflict, in the Persian Gulf War, and in Operation
Iraqi Freedom. The United Kingdom and the United States continually consult on
foreign policy issues and global problems and share major foreign and security
The United Kingdom is
the fourth-largest market for U.S. goods exports after Canada, Mexico, and Japan
and the sixth-largest supplier of U.S. imports after Canada, China, Mexico, Japan,
and Germany. U.S. exports to the United Kingdom in 2003 totaled $33.9 billion,
while U.S. imports from the U.K. totaled $42.7 billion. The United States has
had a trade deficit with the United Kingdom since 1998, although the deficit was
relatively small prior to last year. The United Kingdom is a large source of foreign
tourists in the United States.
States and the United Kingdom share the world's largest foreign direct investment
partnership. U.S. investment in the United Kingdom reached $255.4 billion in 2002,
while U.K. direct investment in the U.S. totaled $283.3 billion. This investment
sustains more than 1 million American jobs.
Ambassador--Robert Holmes Tuttle
Chief of Mission--David T. Johnson
Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs--Maura
Minister-Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Stephan Wasylko
for Economic Affairs--Mark Tokola
Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs--Rick
Minister-Counselor for Management Affairs--Richard Jaworski
for Consular Affairs--John Caulfield
Regional Security Officer--Robert
U.S. Consul General in Belfast--Dean Pittman
Principal Officer in
Embassy in the United Kingdom is located at 24 Grosvenor Sq., W1A 1AE, London
(tel.  (207) 499-9000; fax  (207) 409-1637).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Consular Information
Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular Information Sheets
exist for all countries and include information on entry requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to
a certain country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions
overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free
copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs
at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Consular Information
Sheets and Travel Warnings also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet
home page: http://travel.state.gov/. Consular
Affairs Tips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining
passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are available on the Internet and hard
copies can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government
Printing Office, telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office
of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies,
Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.
National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's
single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone:
1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators
for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time,
excluding federal holidays.
can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and
a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm
give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet
entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280)
is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel.
Information on travel
conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays,
and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure
from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see
"Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).
citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged
their travel via the State Department's travel registration web site at https://travelregistration.state.gov/
or at the Consular section of the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country by filling
out a short form and sending in a copy of their passports. This may help family
members contact you in case of an emergency.
Department of State Web Site. Available on
the Internet at http://www.state.gov/, the Department
of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information, including Background Notes and
daily press briefings
along with the directory of key officers
of Foreign Service posts and more.
provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered
by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help
with the export process, and more.
a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic,
business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The
site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market
research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the
National Trade Data Bank.