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United Kingdom

Facts About the United Kingdom

Background: Great Britain, the dominant industrial and maritime power of the 19th century, played a leading role in developing parliamentary democracy and in advancing literature and science. At its zenith, the British Empire stretched over one-fourth of the earth’s surface. The first half of the 20th century saw the UK’s strength seriously depleted in two World Wars. The second half witnessed the dismantling of the Empire and the UK rebuilding itself into a modern and prosperous European nation. As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a founding member of NATO, and of the Commonwealth, the UK pursues a global approach to foreign policy; it currently is weighing the degree of its integration with continental Europe. A member of the EU, it chose to remain outside of the European Monetary Union for the time being. Constitutional reform is also a significant issue in the UK. Regional assemblies with varying degrees of power opened in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 1999.
Government type: constitutional monarchy
Capital:London
Currency: 1 British pound = 100 pence

Geography of the United Kingdom

Location: Western Europe, islands including the northern one-sixth of the island of Ireland between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, northwest of France
Geographic coordinates: 54 00 N, 2 00 W
Area:
total: 244,820 sq km
land: 241,590 sq km
water: 3,230 sq km
note: includes Rockall and Shetland Islands
Land boundaries:
total: 360 km
border countries: Ireland 360 km
Coastline: 12,429 km
Maritime claims:
continental shelf: as defined in continental shelf orders or in accordance with agreed upon boundaries
exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: temperate; moderated by prevailing southwest winds over the North Atlantic Current; more than one-half of the days are overcast
Terrain: mostly rugged hills and low mountains; level to rolling plains in east and southeast
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Fenland -4 m
highest point: Ben Nevis 1,343 m
Natural resources: coal, petroleum, natural gas, tin, limestone, iron ore, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, lead, silica, arable land
Land use:
arable land: 25%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 46%
forests and woodland: 10%
other: 19% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 1,080 sq km (1993 est.)
Environment – current issues: continues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (has meet Kyoto Protocol target of a 12.5% reduction from 1990 levels and hopes to reduce even more); small particulate emissions, largely from vehicular traffic, remain a problem; solid waste continues to rise and recycling is very limited.
Environment – international agreements:
party to:  Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified:  Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Geography – note: lies near vital North Atlantic sea lanes; only 35 km from France and now linked by tunnel under the English Channel; because of heavily indented coastline, no location is more than 125 km from tidal waters

People of the United Kingdom

In 1999, the United Kingdom’s population was estimated at over 59 million– the third-largest in Europe and the 18th-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 approximately 7.1 million in the capital of London. The UK’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. Approximately 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 UK.

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.

Population: 60,441,457 (July 2005 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years:  18.89%
15-64 years:  65.41%
65 years and over:  15.7% 
Population growth rate: 0.23% 
Birth rate: 11.54 births/1,000 population 
Death rate: 10.35 deaths/1,000 population
Net migration rate: 1.07 migrant(s)/1,000 population
Infant mortality rate: 5.54 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population:  77.82 years
male:  75.13 years
female:  80.66 years 
Total fertility rate: 1.73 children born/woman 
Nationality:
noun: Briton(s), British (collective plural)
adjective: British
Ethnic groups: English 81.5%, Scottish 9.6%, Irish 2.4%, Welsh 1.9%, Ulster 1.8%, West Indian, Indian, Pakistani, and other 2.8%
Religions: Anglican 27 million, Roman Catholic 9 million, Muslim 1 million, Presbyterian 800,000, Methodist 760,000, Sikh 400,000, Hindu 350,000, Jewish 300,000 (1991 est.)
Languages: English, Welsh (about 26% of the population of Wales), Scottish form of Gaelic (about 60,000 in Scotland)
Literacy:
definition: age 15 and over has completed five or more years of schooling
total population: 99% (1978 est.)

History of the United Kingdom

The Roman invasion of Britain in 55 BC and most of Britain’s subsequent incorporation into the Roman Empire stimulated development and brought more active contacts with the rest of Europe. As Rome’s strength declined, the country again was exposed to invasion–including the pivotal incursions of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in the fifth and sixth centuries AD–up to the Norman conquest in 1066. Norman rule effectively ensured Britain’s safety from further intrusions; certain institutions, which remain characteristic of Britain, could develop. Among these are a political, administrative, cultural, and economic center in London; a separate but established church; a system of common law; distinctive and distinguished university education; and representative government.

Union
Both Wales and Scotland were independent kingdoms that resisted English rule. The English conquest of Wales succeeded in 1282 under Edward I, and the Statute of Rhuddlan established English rule 2 years later. To appease the Welsh, Edward’s son (later Edward II), who had been born in Wales, was made Prince of Wales in 1301. The tradition of bestowing this title on the eldest son of the British Monarch continues today. An act of 1536 completed the political and administrative union of England and Wales.

While maintaining separate parliaments, England and Scotland were ruled under one crown beginning in 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded his cousin Elizabeth I as James I of England. In the ensuing 100 years, strong religious and political differences divided the kingdoms. Finally, in 1707, England and Scotland were unified as Great Britain, sharing a single Parliament at Westminster.

Ireland’s invasion by the Anglo-Normans in 1170 led to centuries of strife. Successive English kings sought to conquer Ireland. In the early 17th century, largescale settlement of the north from Scotland and England began. After its defeat, Ireland was subjected, with varying degrees of success, to control and regulation by Britain.

The legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland was completed on January 1, 1801, under the name of the United Kingdom. However, armed struggle for independence continued sporadically into the 20th century. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 established the Irish Free State, which subsequently left the Commonwealth and became a republic after World War II. Six northern, predominantly Protestant, Irish counties have remained part of the United Kingdom.

British Expansion and Empire
Begun initially to support William the Conqueror’s (c. 1029-1087) holdings in France, Britain’s policy of active involvement in continental European affairs endured for several hundred years. By the end of the 14th century, foreign trade, originally based on wool exports to Europe, had emerged as a cornerstone of national policy.

The foundations of sea power were gradually laid to protect English trade and open up new routes. Defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 firmly established England as a major sea power. Thereafter, its interests outside Europe grew steadily. Attracted by the spice trade, English mercantile interests spread first to the Far East. In search of an alternate route to the Spice Islands, John Cabot reached the North American continent in 1498. Sir Walter Raleigh organized the first, short-lived colony in Virginia in 1584, and permanent English settlement began in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia. During the next two centuries, Britain extended its influence abroad and consolidated its political development at home.

Great Britain’s industrial revolution greatly strengthened its ability to oppose Napoleonic France. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the United Kingdom was the foremost European power, and its navy ruled the seas. Peace in Europe allowed the British to focus their interests on more remote parts of the world, and, during this period, the British Empire reached its zenith. British colonial expansion reached its height largely during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Queen Victoria’s reign witnessed the spread of British technology, commerce, language, and government throughout the British Empire, which at its greatest extent encompassed roughly one-fifth to one-quarter of the world’s area and population. British colonies contributed to the United Kingdom’s extraordinary economic growth and strengthened its voice in world affairs. Even as the United Kingdom extended its imperial reach overseas, it continued to develop and broaden its democratic institutions at home.

20th Century
By the time of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, other nations, including the United States and Germany, had developed their own industries; the United Kingdom’s comparative economic advantage had lessened, and the ambitions of its rivals had grown. The losses and destruction of World War I, the depression of the 1930s, and decades of relatively slow growth eroded the United Kingdom’s preeminent international position of the previous century.

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 UK, completing a process begun a century earlier, granted Australia, Canada, and New Zealand complete autonomy within the Empire. They became charter members of the British Commonwealth of Nations (now known as the Commonwealth), an informal but closely knit association that succeeded the Empire. Beginning with the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the remainder of the British Empire was almost completely dismantled. Today, most of Britain’s former colonies belong to the Commonwealth, almost all of them as independent members. There are, however, 13 former British colonies –including Bermuda, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, and others–which have elected to continue their political links with London and are known as United Kingdom Overseas Territories.

Although often marked by economic and political nationalism, the Commonwealth offers the United Kingdom a voice in matters concerning many developing countries. In addition, the Commonwealth helps preserve many institutions deriving from British experience and models, such as parliamentary democracy, in those countries

United Kingdom Economy

Economy – overview: The United Kingdom, a leading trading power and financial center, deploys an essentially capitalistic economy, one of the quartet of trillion dollar economies of Western Europe. Over the past two decades the government has greatly reduced public ownership and contained the growth of social welfare programs. Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanized, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with only 1% of the labor force. The UK has large coal, natural gas, and oil reserves; primary energy production accounts for 10% of GDP, one of the highest shares of any industrial nation. Services, particularly banking, insurance, and business services, account by far for the largest proportion of GDP while industry continues to decline in importance. The economy has grown steadily, at just above or below 3%, for the last several years. The BLAIR government has put off the question of participation in the euro system until after the next election, in June of 2001; Chancellor of the Exchequer BROWN has identified some key economic tests to determine whether the UK should join the common currency system, but it will largely be a political decision. A serious short-term problem is foot-and-mouth disease, which by early 2001 had broken out in nearly 600 farms and slaughterhouses and had resulted in the killing of 400,000 animals.
GDP: purchasing power parity – $1.36 trillion (2000 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 1.9% (1999 est.), 3% (2000 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $22,800 (2000 est.)
GDP – composition by sector:
agriculture:  1.7%
industry:  24.9%
services:  73.4% (1999)
Population below poverty line: 17%
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 2.6%
highest 10%: 27.3% (1991)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 2.3% (1999), 2.4% (2000 est.)
Labor force: 29.2 million (1999)
Labor force – by occupation: services 68.9%, manufacturing and construction 17.5%, government 11.3%, energy 1.2%, agriculture 1.1% (1996)
Unemployment rate: 6% (1999), 5.5% (2000 est.)
Budget:
revenues:  $555.2 billion
expenditures:  $510.8 billion, including capital expenditures of $37.7 billion (FY00)
Industries: machine tools, electric power equipment, automation equipment, railroad equipment, shipbuilding, aircraft, motor vehicles and parts, electronics and communications equipment, metals, chemicals, coal, petroleum, paper and paper products, food processing, textiles, clothing, and other consumer goods.
Industrial production growth rate: -0.3% (1999), 2% (2000)
Electricity – production: 342.771 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity – production by source:
fossil fuel:  69.38%
hydro:  1.55%
nuclear:  26.68%
other:  2.39% (1999)
Electricity – consumption: 333.012 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity – exports: 265 million kWh (1999)
Electricity – imports: 14.5 billion kWh (1999)
Agriculture – products: cereals, oilseed, potatoes, vegetables; cattle, sheep, poultry; fish
Exports: $282 billion (f.o.b., 2000)
Exports – commodities: manufactured goods, fuels, chemicals; food, beverages, tobacco
Exports – partners: EU 58% (Germany 12%, France 10%, Netherlands 8%), US 15% (1999)
Imports: $324 billion (f.o.b., 2000)
Imports – commodities: manufactured goods, machinery, fuels; foodstuffs
Imports – partners: EU 53% (Germany 14%, France 9%, Netherlands 7%), US 13%, Japan 5% (1999)
Economic aid – donor: ODA, $3.4 billion (1997)
Currency: British pound (GBP)

Map of the United Kingdom