The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland[note 7] (commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK, or Britain) is a sovereign state located off the northwestern coast of continental Europe. It is an island country, spanning an archipelago including Great Britain, the northeastern part of Ireland, and many small islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land border, sharing it with the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea. The largest island, Great Britain, is linked to France by the Channel Tunnel.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and unitary state consisting of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales It is governed by a parliamentary system with its seat of government in London, the capital, but with three devolved national administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, the capitals of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively. The Channel Island bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, and the Isle of Man are Crown Dependencies which means they are constitutionally tied to the British Monarch but are not part of the UK. The UK has fourteen overseas territories, all remnants of the British Empire, which at its height in 1922 encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land surface, the largest empire in history. British influence can still be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies.
The UK is a developed country, with the world's sixth largest economy by nominal GDP and the seventh largest by purchasing power parity. It was the world's first industrialised country and the world's foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the economic and social cost of two world wars and the decline of its empire in the latter half of the 20th century diminished its leading role in global affairs. The UK nevertheless remains a major power with strong economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence. It is a recognised nuclear weapons state and has the third highest defence spending in the world. It is a Member State of the European Union, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, G8, G20, NATO, OECD, and the World Trade Organization
On 1 May 1707, the Kingdom of Great Britain was created by the political union of the Kingdom of England (which included Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland. This event was the result of the Treaty of Union that was agreed on 22 July 1706, and then ratified by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland each passing an Act of Union in 1707. Almost a century later, the Kingdom of Ireland, already under English control by 1691, merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom with the passing of the Act of Union 1800. Although England and Scotland had been separate states prior to 1707, they had been in personal union since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI King of Scots had inherited the throne of the Kingdoms of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London.
The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 245,000 square kilometres (94,600 sq mi) comprising of the island of Great Britain, the northeastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland (Northern Ireland) and smaller islands. It lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, coming within 35 kilometres (22 mi) of the northwest coast of France, from which it is separated by the English Channel.
Great Britain lies between latitudes 49° and 59° N (the Shetland Islands reach to nearly 61° N), and longitudes 8° W to 2° E. The Royal Greenwich Observatory, in London, is the defining point of the Prime Meridian. When measured directly north-south, Great Britain is a little over 1,100 kilometres (700 mi) in length and is a fraction under 500 kilometres (300 mi) at its widest, but the greatest distance between two points is 1,350 kilometres (840 mi) between Land's End in Cornwall (near Penzance) and John o' Groats in Caithness (near Thurso). Northern Ireland shares a 360-kilometre (224 mi) land boundary with the Republic of Ireland.
The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. The temperature varies with the seasons but seldom drops below −10 °C (14.0 °F) or rises above 35 °C (95 °F). The prevailing wind is from the southwest, bearing frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean. Eastern parts are most sheltered from this wind and are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters, especially in the west, where winters are wet, especially over high ground. Summers are warmest in the south east of England, being closest to the European mainland, and coolest in the north. Snowfall can occur in winter and early spring, though it rarely settles to great depth away from high ground.
At the most recent census in 2001, the total population of the United Kingdom was 58,789,194, the third largest in the European Union, the fifth largest in the Commonwealth and the twenty-first largest in the world. By mid-2008, this was estimated to have grown to 61,383,000. In 2008, natural population growth overtook net migration as the main contributor to population growth for the first time since 1998. Between 2001 and 2008, the population increased by an average annual rate of 0.5 per cent. This compares to 0.3 per cent per year in the period 1991 to 2001, and 0.2 per cent in the decade 1981 to 1991. Published in 2008, the mid-2007 population estimates revealed that, for the first time, the UK was home to more people of pensionable age than children under the age of 16.
The UK does not de jure have an official language but the predominant spoken language is English, a West Germanic language descended from Old English which features a large number of borrowings from Old Norse, Norman French and Latin. Largely because of the British Empire, the English language has spread across the world, and become the international language of business as well as the most widely taught second language
The largest religious group in England is Christianity, with the Church of England (Anglican) the Established Church: the church retains a representation in the UK Parliament and the British monarch is a member of the church (required under Article 2 of the Treaty of Union) as well as its Supreme Governor. The Church of England also retains the right to draft legislative measures (related to religious administration) through the General Synod that can then be passed into law by Parliament. The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales is the second largest Christian church with around five million members, mainly in Englandty :::::
'British literature' refers to literature associated with the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as well as to literature from England, Wales and Scotland prior to the formation of the United Kingdom. Most British literature is in the English language. The UK publishes some 206,000 books each year, making it the largest publisher of books in the world.
The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all time. Among the earliest English writers are Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century), Thomas Malory (15th century), Sir Thomas More (16th century), and John Milton (17th century). In the 18th century, Samuel Richardson is often credited with inventing the modern novel. In the 19th century, there followed further innovation by Jane Austen, the gothic novelist Mary Shelley, children's writer Lewis Carroll, the Brontë sisters, the social campaigner Charles Dickens, the naturalist Thomas Hardy, the visionary poet William Blake and romantic poet William Wordsworth.
Various styles of music are popular in the UK, from the indigenous folk music of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, to heavy metal.
Notable composers of classical music from the United Kingdom and the countries that preceded it include William Byrd, Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Sir Arthur Sullivan (most famous for working with librettist Sir W. S. Gilbert), Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Benjamin Britten, pioneer of modern British opera. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is one of the foremost living composers and current Master of the Queen's Music. The UK is also home to world-renowned symphonic orchestras and choruses such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Chorus. Notable conductors include Sir Simon Rattle, John Barbirolli and Sir Malcolm Sargent. Some of the notable film score composers include John Barry, Clint Mansell, Mike Oldfield, John Powell, Craig Armstrong, David Arnold, John Murphy, Monty Norman and Harry Gregson-Williams. George Frideric Handel, although born German, was a naturalised British citizen and some of his best works, such as Messiah, were written in the English language.
Symbols:::::::::::::::The flag of the United Kingdom is the Union Flag. It was created by the superimposition of the Flag of England, the Flag of Scotland and Saint Patrick's Flag in 1801. Wales is not represented in the Union Flag as Wales had been conquered and annexed to England prior to the formation of the United Kingdom. However, the possibility of redesigning the Union Flag to include representation of Wales has not been completely ruled out. The national anthem of the United Kingdom is "God Save the King", with "King" replaced with "Queen" in the lyrics whenever the monarch is a woman.
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