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Overview of the UK

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign state in Europe. Lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland, it includes the island of Great Britain (the name of which is also loosely applied to the whole country), the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another state—the Republic of Ireland.

  • Name of country: United Kingdom
  • Capital: London
  • Area: 243.610 km²
  • Population: 64.1 million (2014)
  • CurrencyPound sterling (GBP)
  • Time zone: Winter GMT (UTC+0); Summer: BST (UTC+1)
  • LanguageEnglish

Geography and Climate

United Kingdom lies between the North Atlantic and the North Sea, the southeastern coast United Kingdom, close to the northern French coast within 22 miles (35 km), separated by waist English Channel.

England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK, covering 130,395 square kilometres (50,350 sq mi).Most of the country consists of lowland terrain, with mountainous terrain north-west of the Tees-Exe line; including the Cumbrian Mountains of the Lake District, the Pennines and limestone hills of the Peak District, Exmoor and Dartmoor. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and the Humber. England's highest mountain is Scafell Pike (978 metres (3,209 ft)) in the Lake District.

Scotland accounts for just under a third of the total area of the UK, covering 78,772 square kilometres (30,410 sq mi) and including nearly eight hundred islands, predominantly west and north of the mainland; notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands.

Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area of the UK, covering 20,779 square kilometres (8,020 sq mi). Wales is mostly mountainous, though South Wales is less mountainous than North and mid Wales. The main population and industrial areas are in South Wales, consisting of the coastal cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, and the South Wales Valleys to their north.

Northern Ireland, separated from Great Britain by the Irish Sea and North Channel, has an area of 14,160 square kilometres (5,470 sq mi) and is mostly hilly. It includes Lough Neagh which, at 388 square kilometres (150 sq mi), is the largest lake in the British Isles by area. The highest peak in Northern Ireland is Slieve Donard in the Mourne Mountains at 852 metres (2,795 ft).

The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. The temperature varies with the seasons seldom dropping below −11 °C (12 °F) or rising above 35 °C (95 °F). The prevailing wind is from the south-west and bears frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean, although the eastern parts are mostly sheltered from this wind since the majority of the rain falls over the western regions the eastern parts are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters; especially in the west where winters are wet and even more so over high ground. Summers are warmest in the south-east of England, being closest to the European mainland, and coolest in the north. Heavy snowfall can occur in winter and early spring on high ground, and occasionally settles to great depth away from the hills.

Economy

The UK has a partially regulated market economy. Based on market exchange rates the UK is today the sixth-largest economy in the world and the third-largest in Europe after Germany and France.

The UK service sector makes up around 73% of GDP. London is one of the three "command centres" of the global economy (alongside New York City and Tokyo), it is the world's largest financial centre alongside New York, and it has the largest city GDP in Europe.

The automotive industry is a significant part of the UK manufacturing sector and employs over 800,000 people, with a turnover of some £52 billion (2011). The aerospace industry of the UK is the second- or third-largest national aerospace industry in the world depending upon the method of measurement and has an annual turnover of around £25 billion. The pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in the UK economy and the country has the third-highest share of global pharmaceutical R&D expenditures (after the United States and Japan).

Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanised and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with less than 1.6% of the labour force (535,000 workers).

Politics

The United Kingdom is a unitary state under a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of the UK as well as monarch of fifteen other independent Commonwealth countries. The monarch has "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn".

The position of prime minister, the UK's head of government, belongs to the person most likely to command the confidence of the House of Commons; this individual is typically the leader of the political party or coalition of parties that holds the largest number of seats in that chamber. The prime minister chooses a cabinet and its members are formally appointed by the monarch to form Her Majesty's Government. By convention, the Queen respects the prime minister's decisions of government.

Education

Whilst education in England is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Education, the day-to-day administration and funding of state schools is the responsibility of local authorities.Universally free of charge state education was introduced piecemeal between 1870 and 1944. Education is now mandatory from ages five to sixteen, and in England youngsters must stay in education or training until they are 18. In 2011, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) rated 13–14-year-old pupils in England and Wales 10th in the world for maths and 9th for science. In 2010, over half of places at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge were taken by students from state schools, while the proportion of children in England attending private schools is around 7% which rises to 18% of those over 16. England has the two oldest universities in English-speaking world, Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (jointly known as "Oxbridge") with history of over eight centuries.

Culture

The culture of the United Kingdom has been influenced by many factors including: the nation's island status; its history as a western liberal democracy and a major power; as well as being a political union of four countries with each preserving elements of distinctive traditions, customs and symbolism. As a result of the British Empire, British influence can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies including Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States. The substantial cultural influence of the United Kingdom has led it to be described as a "cultural superpower".