Separated from continental Europe by the English Channel, the UK consists of Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland), several smaller islands, and Northern Ireland.
Geography: Rugged uplands dominate the landscape of Scotland, Wales, and northern England. All of the peaks in the United Kingdom over 4000 ft (1219 m) are in highland Scotland. The Pennine mountains, known as the “backbone of England,” run the length of northern England. Lowland England rises into several ranges of rolling hills, and there is an interconnected system of rivers and canals. Over 600 islands, many uninhabited, lie west and north of the Scottish mainland.
Climate: Generally mild, temperate, and highly changeable. Rain is fairly well distributed throughout the year. The west is generally wetter than the east, and the south warmer than the north. Winter snow is common in upland areas.
People and Society: The Scottish and Welsh nations remain recognizably distinct, and the creation of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly has given each country greater political autonomy. The future of devolved government in Northern Ireland remains problematic. People from other ethnic minorities account for 5% of the population; more than half of them were born in the UK. Asians and West Indians in most cities face deprivation and social stress; Asian women can be particularly isolated. In key areas such as policing, multiethnic recruitment has made little progress. Marriage is in decline. Over 40% of all births occur outside marriage, but most of them to cohabiting couples. Single-parent households account for just over a quarter of all families. Income inequality is greater now than in 1884, when records began.
The Economy: World leader in financial services, pharmaceuticals, and defence industries. Strong multinationals. Precision engineering and high-tech industries, including biotechnology and telecommunications. Energy sector based on declining North Sea oil and natural gas reserves. Innovative in computer software development. Flexible working practices. Long-term decline of manufacturing sector, particularly heavy industries and car manufacture, matched by rise in financial and other services. Nonparticipation in euro threatens former status as EU’s largest recipient of inward investment, and has prompted some major investors to close UK factories. High levels of government, corporate, and consumer debt: institutional vulnerability to 2007–2008 global downturn. Bank bailouts and stimulus packages pushed the government’s finances further into the red.
Insight: The UK has no formal written constitution, but a stable government system based on Parliament, which originated as a check on royal power in the 13th century
Official Name: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Date of Formation: 1707
Population: 61.6 million
Total Area: 94,525 sq. miles (244,820 sq. km)
Density: 660 people per sq. mile
Languages: English*, Welsh*, other
Religions: Anglican 45%, other 39%, Catholic 9%, Presbyterian 4%, Muslim 3%
Ethnic Mix: English 80%, Scottish 9%, other 5%, Welsh 3%, Northern Irish 3%
Government: Parliamentary system
Currency: Pound sterling = 100 pence