UK: A Country Overview

A brief history and quick geographic overview of the United Kingdom...


The UK is surrounded by several seas of the North Atlantic and has coastlines on the North Sea, Celtic Sea, Irish Sea and the English Channel. It has one land border, that between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The surface area is approximately 244,000 Km2, with England accounting for just over half of the total area. Most of the country is low-lying with some mountainous peaks in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and northwest England. The highest point is Ben Nevis at 1,343m.

Travelling to the UK is relatively easy with London being one of the central international airport hubs of Europe. Once within the UK, a number of options are available for getting around the country; domestic flights, train, busses, coach, and within London, the Underground (more commonly known as the Tube) and trams.


The United Kingdom of Great Britain was created on 1 May 1707 following the political union of the Kingdom of England, including Wales and the Kingdom of Scotland. Nearly a century later, following the Act of Union 1800, the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Disputes within Ireland led to the partition of the island in 1921, with Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. In 1927, as a result of this, the UK's formal title changed to United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

During World War II, the UK was one of the three main Allies, and became one of the Big Three Powers that met to plan the Post-War World.

Following the Second World War the British Empire was gradually dismantled to become the Commonwealth of Nations. The majority of the former colonies belong to the Commonwealth as independent nations, with a number of the remaining colonies, including, Gibraltar and Bermuda becoming British Overseas Territories.

Politics and Government

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and Commonwealth realm with a royal family and a parliamentary government. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of the UK and 15 Commonwealth countries.

The UK was one of the founding members of the European Union in 1992 following the signing of the Maastricht Treaty.


The UK has a regulated free market economy and is a leading trading and financial power centre. It is the sixth largest economy in the world. It has large coal, natural gas and oil reserves with some of the UK's leading companies based in this sector.

The UK chose not to participate in the introduction of the euro in 1999 and continues to use the pound sterling as its currency.


The UK has a temperate maritime climate with abundant rainfall and southwest winds predominating. Temperatures range from -10°C (14.0°F) and rarely rise above 35°C (95°F). The coldest months are January and February, with the hottest months in July and August. The weather is subject to frequent changes.

It rains throughout the year with a total annual average of 923mm. Average annual sunshine is approximately 1,340 hours with southeast England benefiting from the most hours .

Information on the average temperatures and rainfall can be found on the UK Met Office website.


The UK has one of the highest overall crime rates in the EU, however, these rates have been rapidly on the decline in recent years with the exception of armed crime which is increasing, especially in inner city areas. The country's capital is covered by CCTV cameras and there is a large police presence.

Foreigners Living in the UK

There are almost 8 million foreign-born people living in the UK.

Immigration is managed by the UK Border Agency. The Skilled Migrant Visa (Tier 2 visa) allows workers with specific skills that are in short supply to come to work in the UK. EU nationals have the right to live and work in the UK and make up a significant part of the foreign work force.

The Office for National Statistics publishes facts and figures relevant to international migration and foreign-born population.