United Kingdom or Great Britain, an island country of northwestern Europe. The official name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This article follows common usage in shortening the name to Britain, Great Britain, or United Kingdom. In the strictest sense, however, the name Great Britain should be used only for (1) the island of Great Britain, largest of the British Isles, and (2) the union of nations occupying this island: England, Scotland, and Wales.
Britain includes all the British Isles except for the Isle of Man and that part of Ireland occupied by the Republic of Ireland. The Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea, and the Channel Islands, off the north coast of France, are officially not part of the United Kingdom; they are closely attached dependencies of the Crown.
Great Britain lies roughly between 50° and 60° north latitude and is cut at Greenwich by the prime meridian, 0° longitude. Situated in the Atlantic Ocean, it is bounded on the north and west by open water, on the east by the North Sea, and on the south by the Strait of Dover and the English Channel. St. George's Channel, the Irish Sea, and the North Channel separate the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. The only independent country bordering Britain is the Republic of Ireland.
The area of the United Kingdom is slightly more than that of the states of Georgia and South Carolina combined. Maximum distances are roughly 600 miles (960 km) north and south and 300 miles (480 km) east and west.
|United Kingdom in brief|
|Official language: English.|
|Official name: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.|
|National anthem: "God Save the Queen" (or "King").|
|Flag and royal arms: The United Kingdom's flag, adopted in 1801, has a red cross with a white border superimposed on a diagonal cross with a white border. The background is blue. The flag is known as the British Union Flag or the Union Jack. The royal arms has a lion on the left representing England and unicorn on the right representing Scotland.|
|Largest cities: (2001 census) London (7,172,036); Birmingham (977,091); Leeds (715,404); Glasgow (577,869); Sheffield (513,234); Bradford (467,668); Edinburgh (448,624); Liverpool (439,476).|
|Land and climate|
|Land: The United Kingdom lies in northwestern Europe. It includes the island of Great Britain and the northeastern part of the island of Ireland. France lies south across the English Channel; the Republic of Ireland west across the Irish Sea; Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Norway east across the North Sea. Most of the land is flat or rolling. There are rugged sections in northern Scotland, in Wales, and in northern, central, and far southwestern England.|
|Area: 93,784 mi2 (242,900 km2). Greatest distances—north-south, about 600 mi (970 km); east-west, about 300 mi (480 km). Coastline—2,521 mi (4,057 km).|
|Elevation: Highest—Ben Nevis, 4,406 ft (1,343 m) above sea level. Lowest—Great Holme Fen, near the River Ouse in Cambridgeshire, 9 ft (2.7 m) below sea level.|
|Climate: Summers mild—daytime highs about 73 degrees F (23 degrees C) in the south, about 65 degrees F (18 degrees C) in Scotland. Cool winters—nighttime temperatures drop nearly to freezing, but rarely much below, except in the Scottish Highlands. Precipitation moderate, generally higher in the west.|
|Form of government: Constitutional monarchy. In practice, a parliamentary democracy.|
|Head of state: Monarch (queen or king). The monarch is the head of the executive and judicial branches of the government and is a part of the legislative branch.|
|Head of government: Prime minister, usually the head of the majority party in the House of Commons.|
|Legislature: Parliament of two houses: House of Commons has 646 members, elected by the people; House of Lords has about 700 members. House of Commons is much more powerful than House of Lords.|
|Executive: Prime minister and Cabinet.|
|Political divisions: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, united under one government. Each division has units of local government.|
|Population: Current estimate—60,590,000. 2001 census—58,789,194.|
|Population density: 646 per mi2 (249 per km2).|
|Distribution: 89 percent urban, 11 percent rural.|
|Major ethnic/national groups: 95 percent of mostly British or Irish descent. About 5 percent recent immigrants or their descendants. Immigrants mostly from former British colonies.|
|Major religions: About 50 percent Church of England, 10 percent Roman Catholic, 4 percent Church of Scotland; also several other Protestant denominations, Muslims, Hindus, Jews.|
|Chief products: Agriculture—barley, beef and dairy cattle, chickens and eggs, hogs, milk, potatoes, rapeseed, sheep, sugar beets, wheat. Manufacturing—aerospace equipment, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, electrical and electronic products, foods and beverages, iron and steel, machinery, metal goods, motor vehicles, printed materials, rubber and plastic goods, ships, textiles and clothing. Mining—coal, natural gas, petroleum. Fishing industry—cod, haddock, herring, mackerel, whiting.|
|Money: Basic unit—British pound. One hundred pence equal one pound.|
|Foreign trade: Major exports—aerospace equipment, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, foods and beverages, machinery, motor vehicles, petroleum. Major imports—chemicals, clothing, foods (especially fish, fruit, vegetables, meat, coffee, tea), machinery, metals, motor vehicles, paper and newsprint, petroleum products, textiles. Major trading partners—France, Germany, Netherlands, United States.|