The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, called the United Kingdom, GB or UK, is a sovereign state in Western Europe. It is made up of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It is a member of the European Union, the United Nations, the Commonwealth, NATO and the G8. It has the sixth largest economy in the world. About 61 million people live in the UK. Most people in the UK speak English. There are four native languages other than English. They are Welsh in Wales, Gaelic and Scots in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and Irish in Northern Ireland. Some like to say that Cornish is a language, but it is more of a dialect. Between the 17th and mid 20th-centuries Britain was an important world power. It became a colonial empire that controlled large areas of Africa, Asia, North America and Oceania. Today this empire does not exist, although Britain keeps links with some of its former empire. Some well-known cities in the UK are London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, York and Glasgow.After a long period when England was split into various kingdoms, it was finally made into one country by Æthelstan (Athelstan) in 945AD. England and Wales were unified by Edward I (Longshanks) by force in the 13th century. This union is known as Britain. Union with Scotland took much longer; there were hundreds of years of conflicts between the two countries. This union is known as Great Britain. In 1603, when Queen Elizabeth I of England died, her closest relative was King James VI of Scotland. He became king of England as well as king of Scotland, but the two countries stayed separate. In 1707, the Scottish and English Parliaments agreed the Treaty of Union, which joined the two countries into one country called The Kingdom of Great Britain under Queen Anne.
Queen Elizabeth has reigned since 1952.
By 1800, both Scotland and England had already independently had much influence over Ireland for over 600 years. In that year laws were passed in Great Britain and Ireland to merge the two states. The new country was called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922 much of Ireland became independent as the Irish Free State (now called Ireland) from the United Kingdom. However, six northern counties (called Northern Ireland) continue to be part of the United Kingdom. The country was renamed The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Parliament[change | edit source]
The British people today are ruled by Parliament, not by monarchs. Parliament started a thousand years ago as an advisory body for the monarch, but by the 17th century it had gained enough power to successfully defeat Charles I, in the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector. Though the monarchy was restored after his death, the Crown slowly became the secondary power, and Parliament the first. Members of Parliament (called MPs) were elected, but until the early twentieth century, only men who owned property could vote. In the nineteenth century, more people were given suffrage (the right to vote), but even so, by 1900, women could not vote, and only 40% of men were rich enough to vote. But in 1928, all adults, male and female, got the vote: this is called universal suffrage. Parliament is in London, but it has power over the whole of the UK. Today, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own parliaments as well, but they have more limited powers. There are also parliaments in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which are islands that are partly controlled by the UK, and partly independent. The members of Parliament belong to political parties: the biggest parties are the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. Members of the same party agree to act and vote more or less together. A party with more than half the seats (a majority) forms the government; the leader of the party becomes the Prime Minister, who then...
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