Wednesday, February 13, 2013

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

On my way to Iceland, I'll have a couple of nights in the UK.  Officially, it is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom is made up of four countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Accordingly, the nation doesn't celebrate one particular national holiday.

The UK is between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea; about 50 km (35 miles) northwest of France.  

The country is a little smaller than Oregon and is home to just over 63 million.  London is the capital city.

The country is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system.  Queen Elizabeth II has been the chief of state since 1952.  The head of the government is the prime minister who is the leader of the majority party or majority coalition in parliament.

The UK was a founding member of NATO and the Commonwealth of Nations.  It is also one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.  While the UK is a member of the EU, it has opted out of joining the Euro in favor of keeping the Pound (£).  The UK is not a Schengen member.  Instead it shares a common travel area with the Republic of Ireland.  So, for me, travel between the UK and continental Europe requires a passport stamp.

It was the world's first industrialized country and has the world's 6th largest economy; the 3rd largest in Europe after Germany and France.  The UK is the USA's 6th largest trading partner.  It is the Czech Republic's 5th largest export market.

At the height of the British Empire

They used to say that the sun never set on the British Empire.  During its height in the 19th century, the British Empire was the largest empire in history and covered 1/4 of the world.

The Union Jack is made of the crosses of three patron saints – Saint George (for England), Saint Andrew (for Scotland) and Saint Patrick (for Ireland).

The UK maintains sovereignty over 17 territories which are not part of the United Kingdom.  Three are Crown Dependencies – the Bailiwick of Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.  They are not part of the country but the UK is responsible for defense and foreign affairs.

Then there are 14 British Overseas Territories.  They are Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Turks and Caicos, the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus and Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.  There's also the British Antarctic Territory but it is not universally recognized.

Almost all of these British territories take their cue from the UK and drive on the left hand side of the road.

Measurements tend to mess me up in the UK.  They are not fully on the metric system so some things are metric and some things are still imperial.  So I never know which one to use.  For example, distance is in miles; not kilometers.  Gas, milk and most other liquids are in liters.  Yet, draft beer must be sold in pints.  UK pints are 20 oz where in the USA a pint is 16 oz.  Weight is in pounds, except for body weight which is in stones.  And one stone is 14 pounds.  Confusing.

Update:  The UK has voted to leave the EU.  Once, and if, the country invokes Article 50 then it will have two years to negotiate its exit from EU.

Update:  The UK have issued new £1 coins and are updating the banknotes.

Update:  The UK officially left the EU on 31 January 2020.


  1. The UK has a lot to teach the world about how to deal with contraction. America should take notes.

  2. Christopher - I agree entirely with the last section of this post about the confusing state of measurements in the UK. The metric system has been taught in UK schools for over 35 years but no British government has grasped the nettle to change over completely, most obviously by not changing road signs from miles to kilometres. The fear of offending the right-wing press, much of it owned Murdoch of Fox News, is a major issue.

    Beware of doing what many Brits do, thinking they are not part of Europe. They are! - both geographically & politically. What you need to say is that you have to show your passport when travelling from the UK or Ireland to continental Europe with emphasis on 'continental' but I can't put that in bold in this comment box :-) And the UK is a bit closer to France than you state - just over 21 miles/34 km at the nearest point.

    Enjoy your trip, both to the UK & Iceland!