The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, more commonly referred to as the United Kingdom or the UK, is a unitary state consisting of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are also three Crown Dependencies in nearby waters, and 14 Overseas Territories across the globe. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the United Kingdom was the world’s foremost superpower, with roughly a quarter of the world’s landmass and population under the dominion of the British Empire. Throughout the 20th century, the British Empire gradually dissolved, and countries such as Germany, the U.S., and USSR gained more international influence; however, the UK remains one of the world’s leading economies, with considerable political, cultural, and technological influence.
Since 2016, Brexit, i.e. the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, has been the most influential factor in the UK’s foreign policy, and adaptation to life outside of the EU has had a significant impact domestically. Thus far, most consider the economic and bureaucratic fallout of Brexit to have been overwhelmingly negative, it has put strain on the UK’s political relationship with the European trading bloc, and trade barriers have resulted in shortages or price hikes for certain goods and services. Nonetheless, the UK will have a higher level of economic autonomy going forward, and it remains to be seen whether any long-term benefits will outweigh the obstacles and challenges that the UK has faced until now.
London is, by far, the largest city in the United Kingdom, with a population of 9.3 million people. Manchester is the second largest city at 2.7 million people, and Birmingham third with 2.6 million, while Belfast is the largest of the executive capitals. The largest non-British population in the UK is from India, with a population of almost 900,000 people. This title was previously held by Poland, however, due to Brexit a large number of European migrants have left the UK, while there has been an uptick in immigration from Asia. There are also significant South Asian, African, and Caribbean populations in the UK, from former-colonies of the British Empire, and these groups make up the majority of the UK’s non-white population. The UK generally ranks among the top 10 percent of countries in terms of demographic development, and ranks 13th on the latest Human Development Index.
The United Kingdom also has one of the world’s most developed economies. It’s GDP of 3.2 trillion U.S. dollars makes it the fifth largest economy in the world, and the second largest in Europe. The country’s currency is the British Pound Sterling (GBP), with the Bank of England as the central bank. The UK is a net importer of goods, with a trade balance deficit of almost 300 billion U.S. dollars. In recent years, the UK has fallen outside of the top 10 leading exporters, and is now ranked 15th in the world, and seventh in Europe. The European Union is the UK’s largest trading partner, however the U.S. receives the largest share of any individual country. Between 2019 and 2023 the national debt rose from 2.4 to 3.4 trillion U.S. dollars, while unemployment has slowly risen across the first half of 2023.
The UK is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system, in which the ultimate legislative power is held by the centralized Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister is the head of the executive branch, while the monarch, King Charles III, serves as head of state in a more ceremonial capacity. Next to the central government of the UK, three of the four member countries, namely Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, have their own devolved national administrations. The three national administrations all consist of an executive body and a legislative institution with different levels of authority. Power is delegated to the devolved administrations by the central parliament and can theoretically be withdrawn or limited at any time. General elections in the UK use a First Past the Post system to determine the 650 Members of Parliament, and the leader of the party or coalition with the most seats is usually named Prime Minister. Parliamentary sessions or terms generally last for five years, although early elections can be called with two thirds support in a vote in the House of Commons. The minimum voting age in the UK is 18 years, although it is 16 years in local elections in Scotland.
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