United Kingdom: country overview
The UK, a leading trading power and financial center, is the third largest economy in Europe after Germany and France.
Year of EU entry: 1973
Member of Schengen area: No
Political system: Constitutional monarchy
Capital city: London
Total area: 244 820 km²
Population: 61.7 million
Currency: pound sterling
Listen to the official EU language: English
The United Kingdom (UK) consists of England, Wales, Scotland (who together make up Great Britain) and Northern Ireland. The UK’s geography is varied, and includes cliffs along some coastlines, highlands and lowlands and many islands off the coast of Scotland. The highest mountain is Ben Nevis in Scotland which reaches a height of 1 344m.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. The main chamber of parliament is the lower house, the House of Commons, which has 646 members elected by universal suffrage. About 700 people are eligible to sit in the upper house, the House of Lords, including life peers, hereditary peers, and bishops. There is a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh with wide-ranging local powers, and a Welsh Assembly in Cardiff which has more limited authority for Welsh affairs but can legislate in some areas.
The English account for more than 80% of the population. The Scots make up nearly 10% and the Welsh and Northern Irish most of the rest. The UK is also home to diverse immigrant communities, mainly from its former colonies in the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Africa.
The economy - one of the largest in the EU - is increasingly services-based although it maintains industrial capacity in high-tech and other sectors. The City of London is a world centre for financial services.
Home of the Industrial Revolution, the United Kingdom has produced many great scientists and engineers including Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. The father of modern economics, Adam Smith, was a Scot. English literature has produced an endless stream of poets, dramatists, essayists and novelists from Geoffrey Chaucer via Shakespeare and his contemporaries to a plethora of modern writers such as J. K. Rowling and the Nobel Prizewinner, Doris Lessing.
There are many regional and traditional specialities to tempt the visitor to the United Kingdom. For example, in Scotland you might try Arbroath smokies (lightly cooked smoked haddock), or in Northern Ireland why not start your day with an Ulster fry (fried bacon, egg, sausage, soda farls and potato bread)? A traditional speciality in Wales is laverbread (seaweed) made into small cakes with Welsh oatmeal, fried and served with eggs, bacon and cockles. A traditional dish from the north of England is the Lancashire hotpot made with lamb or beef, potatoes and onions.
The UK, a leading trading power and financial center, is the third largest economy in Europe after Germany and France. Over the past two decades, the government has greatly reduced public ownership and contained the growth of social welfare programs. Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanized, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with less than 2% of the labor force. The UK has large coal, natural gas, and oil resources, but its oil and natural gas reserves are declining and the UK became a net importer of energy in 2005. Services, particularly banking, insurance, and business services, account by far for the largest proportion of GDP while industry continues to decline in importance. After emerging from recession in 1992, Britain's economy enjoyed the longest period of expansion on record during which time growth outpaced most of Western Europe. In 2008, however, the global financial crisis hit the economy particularly hard, due to the importance of its financial sector. Sharply declining home prices, high consumer debt, and the global economic slowdown compounded Britain's economic problems, pushing the economy into recession in the latter half of 2008 and prompting the then BROWN (Labour) government to implement a number of measures to stimulate the economy and stabilize the financial markets; these include nationalizing parts of the banking system, temporarily cutting taxes, suspending public sector borrowing rules, and moving forward public spending on capital projects. Facing burgeoning public deficits and debt levels, in 2010 the CAMERON-led coalition government (between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) initiated a five-year austerity program, which aimed to lower London's budget deficit from over 10% of GDP in 2010 to nearly 1% by 2015. In November 2011, Chancellor of the Exchequer George OSBORNE announced additional austerity measures through 2017 because of slower-than-expected economic growth and the impact of the euro-zone debt crisis. The CAMERON government raised the value added tax from 17.5% to 20% in 2011. It has pledged to reduce the corporation tax rate to 21% by 2014. The Bank of England (BoE) implemented an asset purchase program of up to £375 billion (approximately $605 billion) as of December 2012. During times of economic crisis, the BoE coordinates interest rate moves with the European Central Bank, but Britain remains outside the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). In 2012, weak consumer spending and subdued business investment weighed on the economy. GDP fell 0.1%, and the budget deficit remained stubbornly high at 7.7% of GDP. Public debt continued to increase.
Source: Europa, CIA World Factbook