Geography. The official name of Great Britain is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom is situated on the British Isles, separated from the European continent by the North Sea and the English Channel.
The island of Great Britain consists of three main parts: England (the southern and middle part of the island), Wales (a mountainous peninsula in the West) and Scotland (the northern part of the island). Northern Ireland occupies one third of the island of Ireland. The warm currents of the Atlantic Ocean influence the climate of Great Britain. Winters are not severely cold and, summers are rarely hot. There are no high mountains in Great Britain. The Thames is the deepest and the longest of the British rivers.
The population of Great Britain is over 58 million people. There are a lot of immigrants from former British Asian and African colonies. London is the capital, and it the world’s leading commercial, financial, and cultural center.
Resources and power.Great Britain is not very rich in valuable mineral resources. It has some deposits of coal and iron ore, which were once vital to the British economy, but their extraction has decreased.
By contrast, the United Kingdom has larger energy resources than any other EU member. Vast deposits of oil and gas were discovered in the North Sea. At the beginning of the 21st century, the country was one of the world’s largest oil producers. It has become self-sufficient in oil and even an exporter.
Economy and society.Great Britain is a highly industrialized country. New industries have been developed in the last three decades. In the conditions of economic stability at the turn of the 21st century, a large middle group arose in terms of income, housing, and lifestyle, referred to as ‘middle England’. But the gap between the least well-off and the most well-off widened. The economic centre of the country remained in London and the southeast. Britain thus became a prosperousbut increasingly unequal and divided society.
Manufacturing and finance. The United Kingdom was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. But the contribution of manufacturing to gross domestic product (GDP) has declined to about one-fifth of the total, and now services are the source of greatest growth. The most important manufacturing industries are engineering, food, chemicals, paper and publishing, textiles, and clothing. Within the engineering industry, electrical engineering and transport engineering, including motor vehicles and aerospace equipment, have grown faster, and electronic products have shown the fastest growth.
The United Kingdom, particularly London, has traditionally been a world financial centre. At the end of the 20th century, the financial services industry employed more than one million people. London has grown in size and influence as a centre of international financial operations and has more foreign banks than any other city in the world.
Government.The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. The British Parliament is the oldest in the world. It originated in the 12th century. The British Parliament consists of the House of Lords and the House of Commonsand the Queen as its head.
The House of Lords has more than 1000 members, although only about 250 take an active part in the work in the house. Members of this Upper House are not elected. They sit there because of their rank.
The House of Commons plays the major role in law-making. It consists of 650 Members of Parliament (MPs). Parliamentary elections are held every 5 years by secret ballot. The British parliamentary system depends on political parties. The party which wins the majority of seats forms the government and its leader usually becomes Prime Minister. The Prime Minister chooses about 20 MPs from his party to form the Cabinet of Ministers, which meets at the Prime Minister’s house - 10 Downing Street. The second largest party becomes the official opposition with its own leader and ‘Shadow Cabinet’. Since the 1920s the Conservative Party and the Labor Party have been the dominant parties.
Cultural life and social customs. Great changes in the United Kingdom’s cultural life occurred after 1945. The most remarkable was the emergence of Liverpool and of London in the 1960s as a world centre of popular culture, and the Beatles is the best-known of the many British rock groups to win a world. The standard of education rose considerably. The number of students going on to higher education increased and the number of universities expanded.
England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland maintain their own unique customs, traditions, cuisine, and festivals. Afro-Caribbean, Asian, and Muslim immigrants introduced new cultural trends and made the United Kingdom the world’s most cosmopolitan and diverse country.
The contributions of the UK to the world science, technology, literature, music and other arts have been considerable. But perhaps Britain’s greatest export has been the English language, which is spoken now in every corner of the world.
Many of its people share the sentiments of Winston Churchill, the most famous UK Prime Minister, who said, “… we have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not comprised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed.” Great Britain is a member of the EU, but a rather reluctant one.
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