Form of Government: Constitutional Monarchy
Area: 242 749 sq km
Population: 66 435 550 inhab. (estimate 2018)
Density: 273.68 inhab./sq km
Coordinates: lat. 62° - 49° N; long. 8° W - 2° E
Capital: London (capital) 8 908 081 inhab. (2018); Greater London Urban Area 10 840 000 inhab. (2018); Greater London 8 908 081 inhab. (2018)
Currency: pound sterling (100 pence)
Human development index: 0.922 (rank: 14)
Sovereign: Queen Elizabeth II, since 6 February 1952
Prime Minister: Boris Johnson (Conservative), since 24 July 2019
House of Commons: seats (August 2019 update): Conservative Party (centre-right), 311; Labour Party (centre-left), 247; SNP (Scottish National Party), 35; LibDem (Liberal Democrats), 13; DUP (Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland), 10; SF (Sinn Féin, Irish republican) 7; The Independent Group for Change, 5; PC (Plaid Cymru, Welsh Nationalist Party), 4; others, 18
Internet: www.ons.gov.uk (Office for National Statistics)
Member of Commonwealth, Council of Europe, EBRD, EU, NATO, OAS observer, OECD, OSCE, UN, WTO
International license plate code GB
International dialling code 0044
Travel vaccinations requirement none
Electricity (Voltage) 230/240
Driving side left
Internet code .uk
DST duration (start-end) late March-late October
Annual average temperature (°C) London 10.1; Belfast 8.6; Edimburgo 8.7; Manchester 9.5
Average temperature in January/July (°C) London 4/17; Belfast 3.5/14.5; Edimburgo 3.5/14.5; Manchester 3.5/16
Daily sunshine hours in June/December (average) London 7/1; Belfast 5.5/1; Edimburgo 6/1; Manchester 6/1.5
Annual average precipitation (mm) London 740; Belfast 875; Edimburgo 655; Manchester 810
Days of rainfall (annual average) London 116; Belfast 177; Edimburgo 125; Manchester 140
Politics and current affairs
The United Kingdom is in the midst of a deep political crisis tied to the intricate process of leaving the European Union.
On 25 November 2018, the European Council approved the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the Framework for the Future Relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which were backed by the British government, though with a fair bit of internal rifts, on 14 November. The Withdrawal Agreement establishes a transition period after the UK’s exit from the EU, lasting until 31 December 2020, during which the UK would still be subject to European regulations. A clause was also included that would avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland (backstop). The Declaration concerns future bilateral rapports, which will be agreed upon only after Brexit. The House of Commons, however, shot down the agreement three times (15 January 2019, 12 March and 29 March), in a dramatic series of defeats for Theresa May’s government. At the same time, the House rejected the possibility of a no-deal exit. At this point, the parties agreed to postpone Brexit to 31 October 2019, in the hopes of being able to negotiate a more sustainable deal. However, the EU has remained firm on only conceding minor changes to the Political Declaration, while no changes will be made to the matter of Ireland. The United Kingdom was thus forced to participate in the European elections on 26 May 2019; the new Brexit Party won 30.5% of the votes, led by Nigel Farage and which advocates for an exit without any conditions. Labour (13.6%) and the Conservatives (8.8%) were punished by the voters.
In the meantime, Prime Minister May, by then having lost the trust of her government, agreed to resign and was replaced on 24 July by Boris Johnson. The new prime minister considers the current Withdrawal Agreement unacceptable and has said that he is prepared to leave the EU with or without a deal on 31 October 2019. In a controversial move, Johnson suspended Parliament until 14 October in order to limit the amount of time available to debate his government’s proposals. On 4 September, the House of Commons once again voted against a no-deal Brexit.
The United Kingdom (UK) comprises the island of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), Northern Ireland and approximately 5000 small islands including the Orkneys, the Shetlands and the Hebrides. Northern Ireland is bordered to the west and south by Eire. Otherwise the UK is bordered to the north, south-west and north-west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the east by the North Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the west by the Irish Sea.
The coastline is very irregular, with large peninsulas and deep inlets. The Solway Firth, a part of the Irish Sea, separates England from Scotland. The Bristol Channel separates the two large peninsulas of Cornwall and Wales. Geographically, the mostly mountainous north and west contrasts sharply with the mostly flat south-east. Morphologically, the situation is complicated by the presence of distinct mountain groups and masses (from north to south: the North West Highlands, the Grampians, the Southern Uplands, the Pennines and the Cambrian Mountains) which decrease in height from north to south. Ben Nevis in Scotland is the highest peak (1343 m). The main rivers are the Thames, Severn, Humber, Tyne, Mersey and Clyde. Scotland also has numerous lakes, of which the largest is Loch Lomond. In the UK as a whole, the largest lake is Lough Neagh in Northern Island. The climate is cool temperate and maritime with constant humidity. Northern Ireland and Eire share the same physical features.
At the end of World War II, the UK still ruled over a vast colonial empire and ranked as a major power. The loss of the colonies (starting with India in 1947) and diminished international influence as a result of the Cold War turned the UK into a medium-ranking European power. The country’s entrance into the EEC in 1973 marked the beginning of a difficult integration process with the continent, which led to the 24 June 2016 referendum, which paved the way to a political process for the country’s exit from the EU. On 19 June 2017, talks began for leaving the EU. Close relations with Commonwealth countries continue.
The long-standing “special relationship” with the USA is a constant given in British politics–with the British government maintaining an uncritical approach to Washington’s choices, especially in the Afghanistan and Iraq campaign after 2001.
In 2011 it took part in war operations in Libya. In Northern Ireland, after many years of terrorist attacks and guerrilla warfare between Protestant unionists and Catholic separatists (the “Troubles”), the Good Friday peace agreement was signed on 10 April 1998. After the installation, in 1999, of an independent multiparty government, attempts were made to grant self-control to the region, but institutional deadlock lasted until 2005, when the IRA (Irish Republican Army) announced the end of armed conflict and destroyed its weapons as a sign of good faith. In 2007, the first government was formed including Sinn Féin representatives and Unionist extremists (DUP).
Not regulated by a written constitution, the British system is parliamentary. The House of Commons has 650 members elected for five years in uninominal constituencies. The House of Lords (755 members: 641 life peers, 89 hereditary peers and 25 Lords Spiritual (bishops) has lost all of its real political power since 1911. The government is headed by the Prime Minister (the leader of the majority party, formally appointed by the sovereign). The Cabinet, formed by the heads of the most important ministries, is responsible for major political decisions. Scotland and Wales have substantial governmental and political autonomy (in line with the principle of devolution).
The UK has its own nuclear deterrent deliverable by nuclear missile submarines. Withdrawal of troops from Iraq was completed in 2009. Participation in military operations in Afghanistan formally came to an end in 2014. Since 2015, a training mission has been underway with 500 troops.
The country takes part in the air attacks against fundamentalist Sunni militias in Iraq (since 2014) and in Syria (since 2015). On 15 April 2018, the UK, along with the USA and France, participated in bombing some bases belonging to the Syrian regime. Military service is voluntary.
The judicial system is based on Common Law, which is founded on the binding principle of case law or precedent rather than a set of codified laws. The highest court of appeal is the Supreme Court, consisting of 12 judges.
|London||8 908 081||inhab.||2018|
|Birmingham||1 141 374||inhab.||2018|
|Greater London Urban Area||10 840 000||inhab.||2018|
|Greater London||8 908 081||inhab.||2018|
|Population by age and gender (% - 2018)|
The United Kingdom population includes large numbers of immigrants from Ireland, the Commonwealth countries and eastern European states (especially Poland).
|Foreigners, total||6 285 974||units||2018|
|Scots Gaelic (co-official in Scotland)|
In 2018, growth slowed to 1.4%, owing especially to the constant drop in investments in the private sector and the moderation of foreign demand. Future outlooks remain difficult to analyze due to the uncertainly surrounding the conditions of the country’s exit from the EU and the risks of a no-deal Brexit.
|Agricultural prod. index (2004-06=100)||103.13||index||2016|
|Balance of trade||- 187 837.7||M US$||2018|
|Active population||33 700 700||units||2018|
|Active population, Females||47||%||2018|
|Unemployment rate, Females||46.3||%||2018|
|Expenses||790 679||M LCU||2018|
|Revenues||765 408||M LCU||2018|
|Currency in circulation||82.08||BN LCU||2018|
|International reserves||172 657.8||M US$||2018|
Agriculture and forests.
British agriculture is unable to meet the food requirements of the nation.
The most important cereals are wheat and barley, grown mainly in the centre and south-east. Oats and rye are the principal cereal crops in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The potato crop is also relevant.
The most important commercial crop is sugar beet, followed by flax and hops. Market gardening is a major industry on the south-east coast.
The forests, which cover about a tenth of the land area, are exploited in moderation.
Livestock and fishing.
Livestock farming accounts for more than two-thirds of the income from the primary sector.
Its broad livestock base (sheep, cattle and pigs) generates significant exports of meat and wool, of which the UK is one of the world’s major producers.
Fishing is an important industry. The main British and Welsh ports are Grimsby, Hull, Fleetwood, North Shields, Milford Haven and Lowestoft (white fish), and Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft (herring). The main Scottish ports are Aberdeen, Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Mallarg, Granton, Lerwick and the ports on the Moray Firth (herring).
|barley||7 169||1000 t||2017|
|cereals, total||23 000.066||1000 t||2017|
|potatoes||6 218||1000 t||2017|
|roots and tubers, total||6 218||1000 t||2017|
|beans, green||11.2||1000 t||2017|
|broad beans, dry||302.468||1000 t||2017|
|rapeseed||2 167||1000 t||2017|
|sugar beet||8 918||1000 t||2017|
|flax fibre and tow||12.452||1000 t||2017|
|barley||1 177||1000 ha||2017|
|carrots and turnips||14.629||1000 ha||2017|
|beans, green||1.31||1000 ha||2017|
|broad beans, dry||79.01||1000 ha||2017|
|sugar beet||111||1000 ha||2017|
|flax fibre and tow||8.554||1000 ha||2017|
|timber||10 759 461||m³||2017|
|cattle||10 004||1000 heads||2017|
|cattle and buffaloes||10 004||1000 heads||2017|
|pigs||4 969||1000 heads||2017|
|sheep||34 832||1000 heads||2017|
|equines, total||409.288||1000 heads||2017|
|birds||177 580||1000 heads||2017|
|crustaceans and molluscs||161 946.08||t||2017|
The UK is an producer of hydrocarbons. Oil is extracted mainly from undersea fields on the continental shelf under the North Sea (Claymore, Forties, Brent, Ninian, Piper, Fulmar). There are smaller fields on land at Egmanton and Bothamsell (Nottinghamshire), Plungar (Leicestershire), Gainsborough (Lincolnshire) and Kimmeridge (Dorset).
The network of pipelines is extensive: the main stretches connect Finnart and Grangemouth, Purbeck and Southampton, Cruden Bay and Grangemouth, and Tranmere and Heysham. Pipelines connecting refineries to major retail areas run between Stanlow and Manchester, Fawley and Severnside, Fawley and London, and Walton-on-Thames and London. Other pipelines carry oil from the North Sea rigs to coastal refineries. Large reserves of natural gas are around Edinburgh, Esk Dale, Calow, Scarborough, Ironville, and in the North Sea. In addition to the internal network, gas pipelines connect the country with Norway (Langeled) for imports, and with Belgium (Interconnector) and the Netherlands (BBL) also for exports.
44% of the gas the country consumes is produced nationally, but 47% is imported via gas pipelines, while the remaining 9% is produced at regasification terminals in Milford Haven, Wales, and on the Isle of Grain, east of London.
The UK has huge coal deposits (though most are no longer mined) in England (North Yorkshire, Selby, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Co. Durham, Northumberland, Lancashire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire), South Wales and Scotland. Other important mineral resources are barite, fluorspar, gypsum, salt, kaolin and potash.
The country generates plenty of electricity, over 20% of which is guaranteed by 15 nuclear reactors (Dungeness-B, Hartlepool-A, Heysham-A and -B, Hinkley Point-B, Hunterston-B, Sizewell-B and Torness). Their total capacity should be halved by 2025, although some reactor renovation projects were blocked in 2018.
Industry in the UK is highly diversified. Restructuring in the 1980s and ’90s led to the growth of innovations sectors (especially electronics) to the detriment of heavy industry and textiles. The iron and steel industry is concentrated in South Wales, Cleveland, Humberside, Sheffield, Scotland (Ravenscraig) and Lancashire, as well as Staffordshire and Northamptonshire. Of the non-ferrous metals the most important is aluminium, followed by lead and nickel.
The main oil refineries are at Fawley (Southampton) and Ellesmere Port, with others at Coryton (on the Thames estuary), Killingholme, Pembroke, Grangemouth, Milford Haven and Eastham.
There is also an outstanding chemical industry, with significant growth in plastics and synthetic resins.
Extensive salt deposits in Cheshire and South Lancashire determined the siting of the oldest chemical industry in the UK. Soda ash, ammonia, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and nitric acid are also manufactured. Wilton (near Middlesbrough) is an important chemical site. Dyes for local textiles industries are produced in Lancashire and Yorkshire. The largest chemical complex in Scotland is at Aberdeen (nitrogenous fertilizers). A highly important role is played by the pharmaceutical sector due to the presence of some leading global multinationals. There is also a moderately important rubber industry (Hythe).
The main cement works are sited along the River Thames, the River Avon, and the Rivers Medway and Humber; other plants are located in North Wales.
Nuclear technology is one of the most important high-tech sectors. Isotopes and radioactive materials for medicine, agriculture and industry are produced at Amersham. Nuclear research is carried out in several centres.
In the vast field of mechanical engineering, the production of high-quality steel, textile machinery, railway carriages, locomotives, bicycles and cutlery are particularly noteworthy. Investments in the automotive sector are among those most at risk for a disorderly exit from the EU. Automobile and commercial vehicle output is found in Coventry, Cowley, Nottingham, Paisley, Scotston, Bridgeton and Dagenham.
The aviation industry, renowned for its great traditions and technological prowess, is based in Wight, Yeovil, Bristol, Gloucester, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Luton, Derby, Manchester, Preston, Farnborough and Bedford, and on the Isle of Wight. There is a rocket launch site on the island of South Uist, in the Hebrides. Ship-building is important in Belfast, Barrow-in-Furness, Glasgow, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Devonport, Faslane and Rosyth. The colossal BAE Systems won a $26 billion commission to build nine war ships for Australia.
There are electrical engineering works in Dagenham, Coventry, Workington, Stretford, Doncaster, Gainsborough, Leeds, Manchester, Rugby, Tyneside and Stafford.
The traditional textile industries are still rather important. The largest clothing manufacturing centres are London, Leeds and Manchester. While the cotton sector disappeared in the second half of the last century, the wool sector is still sizeable, mainly based in Yorkshire. Segments of the man-made fibres industry are also active.
There is also the centuries-old, albeit re-proportioned in the late twentieth century, leather and tanning industry as well as the footwear industry.
The pottery district centres on the towns of Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke and Tunstall, which form the conurbation of Stoke-on-Trent (The Potteries). Glass-making and crystal-ware are often sited near coalfields, and in large cities such as Glasgow, London and Birmingham.
One of the most important food and drink industries is brewing, which uses hops grown mainly in Kent. Yorkshire, Bristol and Nottingham are famous for confectionery. Whisky, especially Scotch (exported all over the world) and gin, with distilleries in London, are major industries. The paper industry and tobacco-processing are also sizeable.
|coal||2 580.9||1000 t||2018|
|coal, total||2 580.9||1000 t||2018|
|dolomite||4 200||1000 t||2016|
|- thermal||166 081.08||M kWh||2016|
|- other renew.||82 640||M kWh||2016|
|- thermal||49 686||1000 kW||2016|
|- other renew.||33 879||1000 kW||2016|
|total net generation||318 157.08||M kWh||2016|
|total installed capacity||97 062||1000 kW||2016|
|aluminium, primary||48||1000 t||2017|
|cars||1 519 440||no.||2018|
|watches and clocks||2 391||no.||2018|
|air conditioners||922 158||no.||2016|
|petrol||23 127.9||1000 t||2014|
|ammonia||1 100||1000 t||2016|
|nitrogen fertilizers||360.9||1000 t||2016|
|carpets||79 076.1||1000 m²||2018|
|cotton fabrics||5.269||M m²||2018|
|footwear||2 841 204||pairs||2018|
|beer of barley||4 120.4||1000 t||2014|
|fish, frozen||155.2||1000 t||2016|
|cigarettes||40 976||M units||2014|
|cigars - t||488||t||2010|
|chemi-mechanical pulp||220||1000 t||2017|
|mechanical pulp||220||1000 t||2017|
|cement||9 400||1000 t||2016|
|chemicals production||20 630||M US$||2016|
|food, beverages and tobacco production||42 649.1||M US$||2016|
The UK has a negative foreign trade balance. Services (finance, investment, freight), in particular capital flow activities, play an important role. The main imports are manufactured goods, chemical products and foodstuffs. The major trading partners are the USA, Germany, France, China and the Netherlands.
Main exports (M US$ - 2017)
machinery 62 153, passenger cars 41 868, pharmaceuticals 32 608, crude oil and petroleum products 30 336, electric and electronic equipment 23 185, aircraft and parts thereof 21 053, chemicals 18 816, technical and electro-medical appliances 17 989, gold 16 998, iron and steel 12 339, plastics 12 088, vehicles and parts thereof 11 720, jewels and precious stones 10 525, apparel and accessories 8 029, spirits 7 272, works of art and antiques 6 543, cosmetics 5 841, computers and accessories 5 651, platinum 5 609, telecommunications equipment 5 244, furniture and accessories 3 983, books and printed matters 3 697, natural gas 3 666, dyes 3 524, paper 3 053, aluminium 2 842, tyres and rubber articles 2 809, food preparations 2 706, beverages 2 509, soap and detergents 2 292, fish and crustaceans 2 262
Finance and banking.
The UK has a highly developed and diversified banking system overseen by the Bank of England.
The UK is not a member of the EU Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and has retained sterling as its currency.
The financial market is extremely important: the London Stock Exchange (LSE) is the most important in Europe.
Insurance is also a major industry. Brexit could deprive London of its role as a major financial centre in Europe.
Various overseas territories and dependencies (Gibraltar, Anguilla, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands) have been repeatedly condemned by the OECD as “fiscal paradises”.
|manufactures||74.489||% of goods exports||2018|
|fuels||9.433||% of goods exports||2018|
|United States||65 315||M US$||2018|
|Germany||46 747||M US$||2018|
|Germany||91 573||M US$||2018|
|China||63 377||M US$||2018|
Tourism. The UK is one of major tourist destination.
The principal centres are London and the university towns, where many foreign students go to study English.
|Expenditures||71 671||M US$||2017|
|Number of arrivals||37 651 000||units||2017|
Privatisation of the well-developed railway system began in 1993. The Channel Tunnel and high-speed trains link the UK to Lille, Brussels and Paris.
The road network is remarkably extensive, and there are excellent airport infrastructures.
The flagship carrier British Airways is one of the major world airlines; a project for the expansion of Heathrow airport (London) was approved in 2018. Goods are also transported on inland waterways and navigable rivers.
Media and telecommunication.
The newspaper and periodicals industry boasts such prestigious titles as The Times, The Financial Times, The Guardian and The Economist as well as tabloids such as The Sun and Daily Mirror. Ahead of the development of infrastructure for 5G connectivity, the country decided not to ban Huawei, a world leader in the sector, unlike the USA and other European countries.
|Civil aviation, km flown||1 204 700 000||km flown||2004|
|Civil aviation, passengers carried||151 867.3||1000 units||2017|
|Broadband subscribers||393.097||per 1000 pop.||2017|
|Computers||802||per 1000 pop.||2008|
Social and welfare
Education and research.
Primary (4/5-11 years) and secondary (11-16 years) education is compulsory and free. In line with the devolution principles, each Country of the UK has its own education system under separate government’s responsibilities.
Social security and health.
The public health and national insurance systems cover workers against loss of earnings due to unemployment, maternity and sickness, and guarantees a minimum wage, maternity and family benefit, and industrial accident compensation.
Various forms of aid are provided for the less privileged.
|Expected years of schooling||19||years||2016|
|Teachers, primary level||313 649||units||2016|
|Teachers, secondary level||392 953||units||2016|
|Social protection spending||38.1||% of total expenses||2016|
|Social protection spending||20.6||% of GDP||2018|
|Hospital beds||2.6||per 1000 pop.||2016|
|Physicians||2.8||per 1000 pop.||2017|
|HIV||0.3||% of adults||2013|
|Museums, visitors||34 700 000||units||2003-04|
|Research and development spending||1.66||% of GDP||2017|
|Access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking||100||%||2016|
|Access to electricity||100||%||2017|