Countries of the United Kingdom

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Countries of the United Kingdom
CategoryAdministrative division
LocationUnited Kingdom
Found inJurisdictions
Possible statusNUTS 1 region (3)
European constituency (3)
Jurisdiction (2)
Additional statusHome Nations
GovernmentDevolved legislature (3)
None (1)
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Countries of the United Kingdom
CategoryAdministrative division
LocationUnited Kingdom
Found inJurisdictions
Possible statusNUTS 1 region (3)
European constituency (3)
Jurisdiction (2)
Additional statusHome Nations
GovernmentDevolved legislature (3)
None (1)

The United Kingdom (UK) comprises four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.[1][2]

Within United Kingdom, a unitary sovereign state, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have gained a degree of autonomy, through the process of devolution. The UK Parliament and British Government deal with all reserved matters for Northern Ireland and Scotland and all non-transferred matters for Wales, but not in general matters that have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales. Additionally, devolution in Northern Ireland is conditional on co-operation between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government of Ireland (see North/South Ministerial Council) and the British Government consults with the Government of Ireland to reach agreement on some non-devolved matters for Northern Ireland (see British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference). England remains fully the responsibility of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which is centralised in London.

England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are not themselves listed in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) list of countries. However the ISO list of the subdivisions of the UK, compiled by British Standards and the UK's Office for National Statistics, uses "country" to describe England, Scotland and Wales.[3] Northern Ireland, in contrast, is described as a "province" in the same lists.[3] Each have separate national governing bodies for sports and compete separately in many international sporting competitions, including the Commonwealth Games. Northern Ireland also forms joint All-Island sporting bodies with the Republic of Ireland for most sports, including rugby union.[4]

The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are dependencies of the Crown and are not part of the UK. Similarly, the British overseas territories, remnants of the British Empire, are not part of the UK.

Historically, from 1801, following the Acts of Union, until 1921 the whole island of Ireland was a country within the UK. Ireland was split into two separate jurisdictions in 1921: Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland. Southern Ireland seceded from the UK in 1922.

Key facts[edit]

NameFlagPopulationArea (km²)Pop. density
(per km²)
CapitalLegislatureLegal systemsJurisdiction
EnglandFlag of England.svg53,012,456130,395406.55LondonEnglish lawEngland and Wales
ScotlandFlag of Scotland.svg5,295,00078,77267.22EdinburghScottish ParliamentScots lawScotland
WalesFlag of Wales 2.svg3,063,45620,779147.43CardiffNational Assembly for WalesEnglish law, Welsh lawEngland and Wales
Northern Ireland1,810,86313,843130.81BelfastNorthern Ireland AssemblyNorthern Ireland law, Irish land lawNorthern Ireland
United KingdomFlag of the United Kingdom (3-5).svg63,181,775243,789259.16LondonUK ParliamentUK administrative lawUnited Kingdom


Various terms have been used to describe England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Acts of Parliament[edit]

Documents relevant to personal
and legislative unions of the
countries of the United Kingdom
Treaty of Windsor1175
Treaty of York1237
Treaty of Perth1266
Treaty of Montgomery1267
Treaty of Aberconwy1277
Statute of Rhuddlan1284
Treaty of Edinburgh–N'hampton1328
Treaty of Berwick1357
Poynings' Law1495
Laws in Wales Acts1535–1542
Crown of Ireland Act1542
Treaty of Edinburgh1560
Union of the Crowns1603
Union of England and Scotland Act1603
Act of Settlement1701
Act of Security1704
Alien Act1705
Treaty of Union1706
Acts of Union1707
Personal Union of 17141714
Wales and Berwick Act1746
Irish Constitution1782
Acts of Union1800
Government of Ireland Act1920
Anglo-Irish Treaty1921
Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act1927
N. Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act1972
Northern Ireland Assembly1973
N. Ireland Constitution Act1973
Northern Ireland Act1998
Government of Wales Act1998
Scotland Act1998
Government of Wales Act2006
Scotland Act2012
Edinburgh Agreement2012

Current legal terminology[edit]

The Interpretation Act 1978 provides statutory definitions of the terms "England", "Wales" and the "United Kingdom", but neither that Act nor any other current statute defines "Scotland" or "Northern Ireland". Use of the first three terms in other legislation is interpreted following the definitions in the 1978 Act. The definitions in the 1978 Act are listed below:

In the Scotland Act 1998 there is no delineation of Scotland, with the definition in section 126 simply providing that Scotland includes "so much of the internal waters and territorial sea of the United Kingdom as are adjacent to Scotland".[citation needed]

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 refers to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as "parts" of the United Kingdom in the following clause: "Each constituency shall be wholly in one of the four parts of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland)."

"Regions": For purposes of NUTS 1 collection of statistical data in a format that is compatible with similar data that is collected elsewhere in the European Union, the United Kingdom has been divided into twelve regions of approximately equal size.[11] Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are regions in their own right while England has been divided into nine regions.

The official term rest of the UK (RUK or rUK) is used in Scotland, for example in export statistics[12] and in legislating for student funding.[13] This term is also used in the context of potential Scottish independence to mean the UK without Scotland.

The alternative term Home Nations is sometimes used in sporting contexts and may include all of the island of Ireland.

Identity and nationality[edit]

According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, there are broadly two interpretations of British identity, with ethnic and civic dimensions:

The first group, which we term the ethnic dimension, contained the items about birthplace, ancestry, living in Britain, and sharing British customs and traditions. The second, or civic group, contained the items about feeling British, respecting laws and institutions, speaking English, and having British citizenship.[14]

Of the two perspectives of British identity, the civic definition has become the dominant idea and in this capacity, Britishness is sometimes considered an institutional or overarching state identity.[15][16] This has been used to explain why first-, second- and third-generation immigrants are more likely to describe themselves as British, rather than English, Scottish or Welsh, because it is an "institutional, inclusive" identity, that can be acquired through naturalisation and British nationality law; the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom who are from an ethnic minority feel British.[17] However, this attitude is more common in England than in Scotland or Wales; "white English people perceived themselves as English first and as British second, and most people from ethnic minority backgrounds perceived themselves as British, but none identified as English, a label they associated exclusively with white people".[citation needed] Contrariwise, in Scotland and Wales "there was a much stronger identification with each country than with Britain. "[18]

Studies and surveys have reported that the majority of the Scots and Welsh see themselves as both Scottish/Welsh and British though with some differences in emphasis. The Commission for Racial Equality found that with respect to notions of nationality in Britain, "the most basic, objective and uncontroversial conception of the British people is one that includes the English, the Scots and the Welsh".[19] However, "English participants tended to think of themselves as indistinguishably English or British, while both Scottish and Welsh participants identified themselves much more readily as Scottish or Welsh than as British".[19] Some people opted "to combine both identities" as "they felt Scottish or Welsh, but held a British passport and were therefore British", whereas others saw themselves as exclusively Scottish or exclusively Welsh and "felt quite divorced from the British, whom they saw as the English".[19] Commentators have described this latter phenomenon as "nationalism", a rejection of British identity because some Scots and Welsh interpret it as "cultural imperialism imposed" upon the United Kingdom by "English ruling elites",[20] or else a response to a historical misappropriation of equating the word "English" with "British",[21] which has "brought about a desire among Scots, Welsh and Irish to learn more about their heritage and distinguish themselves from the broader British identity".[22] The propensity for nationalistic feeling varies greatly across the UK, and can rise and fall over time.[23]

The state-funded Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey,[24] running since 1998 as part of a joint project between the University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast, addressed the issue of identity in 2009. It reported that 35% of people identified as British, whilst 32% identified as Irish and 27% identified as Northern Irish. 2% opted to identify themselves as Ulster, whereas 4% stated other. Of the two main religious groups, 63% of Protestants identified as British as did 6% of Catholics; 66% of Catholics identified as Irish as did 3% of Protestants. 29% of Protestants and 23% of Catholics identified as Northern Irish.[25]

Following devolution and the significant broadening of autonomous governance throughout the UK in the late 1990s, debate has taken place across the United Kingdom on the relative value of full independence.[26]


See also: Home Nations

England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have separate national governing bodies for sports and compete separately in many international sporting competitions.[27][28][29][30] Each country of the United Kingdom has a national football team, and competes as a separate national team at the various disciplines in the Commonwealth Games.[31] At the Olympic Games, the United Kingdom is represented by the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team, although athletes from Northern Ireland can choose to join the Republic of Ireland's Olympic team.[31][32] Also in addition to Northern Ireland having its own national governing bodies for some sports such as Association football and Netball, for others, such as rugby union and cricket, Northern Ireland also participates with the Republic of Ireland in a joint All-Island team. England and Wales also field a joint cricket team.

The United Kingdom also competes in the Eurovision Song Contest.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Are Scotland, England, Wales, or Northern Ireland independent countries? geography
  2. ^ UK Cabinet Office: Devolution Glossary (Accessed 7 September 2010): "United Kingdom: Term used most frequently for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the modern sovereign state comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."[dead link]
  3. ^ a b ISO Newsletter ii-3-2011-12-13
  4. ^ "Sport Northern Ireland | Performance | Governing Bodies of Sport". 2009-12-01. Retrieved 2014-02-23. 
  5. ^ a b Laws in Wales Act 1535, Clause I
  6. ^ Laws in Wales Act 1542
  7. ^ Laws in Wales Act 1535 (repealed 21.12.1993)
  8. ^ Laws in Wales Act 1542 (repealed)
  9. ^ e. g. "... to be raised in that Part of the united Kingdom now called England", "...that Part of the united Kingdom now called Scotland, shall be charged by the same Act..." Article IX
  10. ^ e. g. "That, from the first Day of January one thousand eight hundred and one, all Prohibitions and Bounties on the Export of Articles, the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of either Country, to the other, shall cease and determine; and that the said Articles shall thenceforth be exported from one Country to the other, without Duty or Bounty on such Export"; Union with Ireland Act 1800, Article Sixth.
  11. ^ "Regulation (EC) No 1059/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union of 26 May 2003 on the establishment of a common classification of territorial units for statistics (NUTS)". The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Retrieved 2010-12-22. 
  12. ^ "RUK exports". Scottish Government. Retrieved 13 August 2011. 
  13. ^ "Response to Scottish Government proposals for RUK fees". Edinburgh University Students' Association. Retrieved 13 August 2011. 
  14. ^ Park 2005, p. 153.
  15. ^ Langlands, Rebecca (1999). "Britishness or Englishness? The Historical Problem of National Identity in Britain". Nations and Nationalism 5: 53–69. doi:10.1111/j.1354-5078.1999.00053.x. 
  16. ^ Bradley, Ian C. (2007). Believing in Britain: The Spiritual Identity of 'Britishness'. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-326-1. 
  17. ^ Frith, Maxine (2004-01-08). "Ethnic minorities feel strong sense of identity with Britain, report reveals". The Independent (London: Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  18. ^ Commission for Racial Equality 2005, p. 35
  19. ^ a b c Commission for Racial Equality 2005, p. 22
  20. ^ Ward 2004, pp. 2–3.
  21. ^ Kumar, Krishan (2003). "The Making of English National Identity" (PDF). assets. Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  22. ^ "The English: Europe's lost tribe". BBC News ( 1999-01-14. Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  23. ^ "Devolution, Public Attitudes and National Identity". www.  "The rise of the Little Englanders". London: The Guardian, John Carvel, social affairs editor. 28 November 2000. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  24. ^ "Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey home page". University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast. Retrieved 2011-05-08. 
  25. ^ "Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey 2009, national identity module". University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast. Retrieved 2011-05-08. 
  26. ^ "Devolution and Britishness". Devolution and Constitutional Change. UK's Economic and Social Research Council. 
  27. ^ "Sport England". Sport England website. Sport England. 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  28. ^ "Sport Northern Ireland". Sport Northern Ireland website. Sport Northern Ireland. 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  29. ^ "Sportscotland". Sportscotland website. Sportscotland. 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  30. ^ "Sport Wales". Sport Wales website. Sport Wales. 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  31. ^ a b World and Its Peoples, Terrytown (NY): Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2010, p. 111, In most sports, except soccer, Northern Ireland participates with the Republic of Ireland in a combined All-Ireland team. 
  32. ^ "Irish and GB in Olympic Row". BBC Sport. 27 January 2004. Retrieved 29 March 2010.