The United Kingdom is a highly developed nation that exerts considerable international economic, political, scientific and cultural influence. Located off the northwest corner of Europe, the country includes the island of Great Britain – which contains England, Scotland and Wales – and the northern portion of the island of Ireland.
The country’s role on the global stage faces new questions as the nation has withdrawn from the European Union. The Brexit process sets out new rules for how the U.K. and the European bloc will operate with each other. For example, the freedom to live and work between the U.K. and EU has come to an end and U.K. citizens will need a visa if they want to stay in the EU more than 90 days in a 180-day period.
The nation’s global influence has its roots in the British Empire that formed during the European colonial era and peaked in the early 20th century before embarking on decolonization following World War II. The United Kingdom of today dates to the formation of the Medieval Kingdom of England, and later, the establishment of a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy in the 17th century. The national government is divided between executive, legislative and judicial branches. The prime minister is the head of government and appoints members of the cabinet.
The capital city, London, is a major international financial center and one of the most visited cities in the world. The banking and tourism industries are parts of a larger service sector that powers much of the nation’s economic growth. The industrial revolution began in the U.K., and manufacturing – led by the automobile and aerospace industries – is a declining though still significant part of the nation’s economy.
The United Kingdom has attracted immigrants for centuries. Beginning in the second half of the 20th century, the sources of immigration began to diversify, coming from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean as well as from Central and Eastern Europe. Immigration has become a major focus of public debate in the 21st century.
The nation has a long history of major contributions to the arts and sciences. William Shakespeare is regarded as one of the greatest writers in the history of English literature. British scientists discovered gravity, hydrogen and penicillin and developed theories in aerodynamics and natural evolution. The nation continues to be at the scientific and technological fore. Stephen Hawking has produced groundbreaking work in cosmology and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.
The United Kingdom is home to some of the top universities in the world, including Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London.
The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and is a member of major international organizations including the European Union, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, NATO and the Group of 20.