U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: United Kingdom, November 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Area: 244,111 sq. km. (94,251 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Oregon.
Cities: Capital--London (metropolitan pop. about 6.9 million). Other
cities--Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Bradford,
Manchester, Edinburgh, Bristol, Belfast.
Terrain: 30% arable, 50% meadow and pasture, 12% waste or urban, 7%
forested, 1% inland water.
Climate: Generally mild and temperate; weather is subject to frequent
changes but to few extremes of temperature.
Nationality: Noun--Briton(s). Adjective--British.
Population: 58 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.2%.
Ethnic groups: British, West Indian, South Asian.
Religions: Church of England, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian.
Languages: English, Welsh, Gaelic.
Education: Years compulsory--12. Attendance--nearly 100%. Literacy--
Health: Infant mortality--8/1,000. Life expectancy--males 73 yrs;
females 79 yrs.
Work force (1994, 28 million): Services--72%. Manufacturing and
engineering--18%. Mining and energy--5%. Construction--4%.
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: Unwritten; partly statutes, partly common law and
Branches: Executive--monarch (chief of state), prime minister (head of
government), cabinet. Legislative--bicameral parliament: House of
Commons, House of Lords. Judicial--magistrates' courts, county courts,
high courts, appellate courts, House of Lords.
Subdivisions: Municipalities, counties, parliamentary constituencies,
province of Northern Ireland, and Scottish regions.
Political parties: Conservative; Labour; Liberal Democrats; and various
smaller parties including the Greens and parties of Scotland, Wales, and
Suffrage: British subjects and citizens of the Irish Republic resident
in the U.K., at 18.
GDP (1994): $1 trillion.
Annual growth rate (1994): 4.2%.
Per capita GDP (1994): $18,000.
Natural resources: Coal, oil, gas (North Sea).
Agriculture (1.8% of GDP): Products--cereals, livestock, livestock
Industry (33% of GDP): Types--steel, heavy engineering and metal
manufacturing, textiles, motor vehicles and aircraft, construction,
Trade (1994): Exports--$200 billion: machinery and transport equipment,
petroleum, manufactures, chemicals. Major markets--EU, U.S., Sweden,
Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Switzerland, South Africa. Imports--$215
billion: machinery and transport equipment, manufactures, foodstuffs,
petroleum, chemicals. Major suppliers--EU, U.S., Japan, Norway, Sweden,
The United Kingdom is one of the United States' closest allies, and
British foreign policy emphasizes close coordination with the United
States. Bilateral cooperation reflects the common language, ideals, and
democratic practices of the two nations. The relations were
strengthened by the U.K.'s alliance with the United States during both
World Wars, the Korean conflict, and the Persian Gulf war. The United
Kingdom and the United States continually consult on foreign policy
issues and global problems and share major foreign and security policy
objectives. In the United Nations, the U.K. is a permanent member of
the Security Council. As of May 1995, some 3,500 British soldiers were
serving with UNPROFOR in Bosnia; additional reinforcements were sent in
The U.K. has historic global ties, but as its global commitments have
been reduced since World War II, it has sought a closer association with
Europe. A key member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO),
the U.K. is one of its major European maritime powers. The U.K. ranks
fourth among NATO countries in total defense expenditure.
The 56,000-member Royal Navy is in charge of NATO's independent
strategic nuclear arm--Polaris missile submarines now being replaced by
Trident II. Defense of U.S. reinforcement and resupply of Europe is one
of the Royal Navy's major tasks. In addition, the 7,600-member Royal
Marines provide commando units for amphibious assault and for specialist
reinforcement forces in and beyond the NATO area. The army, with a
strength of 123,500, including 7,600 women, provides for the ground
defense of the United Kingdom through its participation in NATO.
Trade and Investment
The United Kingdom is one of the largest European economies and one of
the world's major trading powers. London ranks with New York as a
leading international financial center.
After Canada, Japan, and Mexico, the United Kingdom is the fourth-
largest U.S. export market. In 1994, it purchased American goods valued
at $26.8 billion and accounted for about 25% of all U.S. trade with the
European Union. The U.K. is also the largest source of foreign tourists
to the United States; an estimated 3 million British tourists visited
the U.S. in 1994--and 3.1 million are expected for 1995--accounting for
more than $8 billion in travel receipts.
The U.K. is America's most important investment partner. For 1993, two-
way direct investment was more than $190 billion. The U.K. was
America's largest destination for investment abroad; valued at $96
billion, U.S. investment accounted for 18% of total investment in the
U.K. In addition, 21% of foreign direct investment in the U.S. came
from the U.K., which at $95 billion was second only to Japan.
British industry is a mixture of publicly and privately owned firms.
Several important industries are publicly owned, including steel,
railroads, coal mining, shipbuilding, and certain utilities. Since
1979, the British Government has privatized most large state-owned
companies, including British Steel, British Airways, British Telecom,
British Coal, British Aerospace, and British Gas.
The United Kingdom is an energy-rich nation with significant reserves of
oil and gas in the North Sea and large coal resources. Energy
production accounts for almost 5% of GDP. North Sea oil production,
currently over 2.4 million b/d, is on an upward trend expected to
continue into 1996. U.K. offshore areas should be an important source
of continued production and new discoveries for some years. U.S. oil
and oil-service companies participate actively in the North Sea oil
industry and consider the United Kingdom an attractive environment for
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--William J. Crowe Jr.
Minister (Deputy Chief of Mission)--Timothy E. Deal
Minister for Economic Affairs--Thomas H. Gewecke
Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs--Michael Habib
Minister-Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Kenneth Moorefield
The U.S. embassy in the United Kingdom is located at 24/31 Grosvenor
Sq., W.1A 1AE, London (tel.  (171) 499-9000; fax  (171) 409-
The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution. The equivalent
body of law is based on statute, common law, and "traditional rights."
Changes may come about formally through new acts of parliament,
informally through the acceptance of new practices and usage, or by
judicial precedents. Although parliament has the theoretical power to
make or repeal any law, in actual practice the weight of 700 years of
tradition restrains arbitrary actions.
Executive government rests nominally with the monarch but actually is
exercised by a committee of ministers (cabinet) traditionally selected
from among the members of the House of Commons and, to a lesser extent,
the House of Lords. The prime minister is the leader of the majority
party in the Commons, and the government is dependent on its support.
Parliament represents the entire country and can legislate for the whole
or for any constituent part or combination of parts. The maximum
parliamentary term is five years, but the prime minister may ask the
monarch to dissolve parliament and call a general election at any time.
The focus of legislative power is the 650-member House of Commons, which
has sole jurisdiction over finance. The House of Lords, although shorn
of most of its powers, can still review, amend, or delay temporarily any
bills except those relating to the budget. Only a few of the 1,200
members of the House of Lords attend its sessions regularly. The House
of Lords has more time than the House of Commons to pursue one of its
more important functions--debating public issues.
The judiciary is independent of the legislative and executive branches
but cannot review the constitutionality of legislation.
The separate identity of each of the U.K.'s constituent parts also is
reflected in governmental structure. Welsh affairs are handled at the
national level by a cabinet minister (the Secretary of State for Wales)
with the advice of a broadly representative council for Wales. Scotland
continues, as before its union with England, to employ different systems
of law (Roman-French), education, local government, judiciary, and
national church (the Presbyterian Church of Scotland instead of the
Church of England). In addition, most domestic matters are handled by
separate departments grouped under a Secretary of State for Scotland,
who also is a cabinet member.
Until suspended in March 1972, Northern Ireland--with the British
Government retaining ultimate responsibility--had its own parliament and
prime minister. Then, in response to deteriorating security and
political conditions in the province, direct rule from London was
established through a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Northern
Ireland is represented by 17 members in the House of Commons. The six
counties of Northern Ireland comprise about 900,000 Protestants and
On November 15, 1985, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland
signed the Anglo-Irish agreement to diminish the divisions in Northern
Ireland and to achieve peace and stability. In the agreement, both
governments affirm that any change in Northern Ireland's status will
come about only with the consent of a majority of its people. An
intergovernmental conference was established to deal with political,
security, legal, and cross-border cooperation issues and provides for
possible future devolution of responsibility for some matters within
In December 1993, the U.K. and Irish Governments adopted a joint
declaration reiterating both governments' commitment that there would be
no change in Northern Ireland's constitutional status unless a majority
of the voters in the province so desired. All constitutional parties
were invited to take part in a negotiation aimed at achieving a
political solution to the conflict in the province. The U.K. and Irish
Governments also cooperate in promoting economic and social development
in the unstable areas and are seeking international support for this
In February 1995, U.K. Prime Minister Major and Irish Prime Minister
Burton announced a Joint Framework Document (JFD) outlining their
governments' shared proposals for inclusive talks on Northern Ireland.
The JFD lays the foundation for "all-party talks" among the political
parties of Northern Ireland and the U.K. and Irish Governments. At the
same time, the U.K. Government separately announced a Framework for
Accountable Government--proposals for a new, devolved local assembly in
Northern Ireland. These proposals are intended to form the basis for
negotiations between the U.K. Government and Northern Ireland's
As of 1994, the United States has given or pledged contributions
totaling $248 mil-lion to the International Fund for Ireland. The Fund
provides grants and loans to businesses to improve the economy, redress
inequalities of employment opportunity, and improve cross-border
business and commercial ties.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Queen Elizabeth II
Prime Minister--John Major
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs--Malcolm Rifkind
Ambassador to the U.S.--Sir John Kerr
Ambassador to the UN--Sir John Weston
The United Kingdom maintains an embassy in the United States at 3100
Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-462-1340; fax 202-
Prime Minister John Major's government was elected in April 1992 in a
surprise win over the opposition Labour Party. The Conservatives
(Tories) have now won four straight general elections since 1979.
Although the Conservatives' share of the popular vote stayed steady at
about 42% in 1992, their number of seats in the House of Commons fell
from 375 to 336. Deaths of several parliamentarians since 1992 and
losses in by-elections have reduced the Tory majority over other parties
in parliament to less than 10 today compared to 100 in 1987. The
official opposition, the left-of-center Labour Party, is up from 228 to
272. The remaining seats are divided among the centrist Liberal
Democrats (23), the Northern Ireland parties (17), the Scottish
Nationalists (4), and the Welsh Nationalists (4). The current
Conservative Government is seeking to build on the 1980s legacy of
former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who led a drive to curb the
power of unions, privatize nationally owned industries, and reform local
government, education, and the National Health Service.
Although Britain, like the United States, is emerging from its deepest
recession since World War II, the Tories are being hit by scandal,
internal divisions over Europe, and significant losses in the May 1995
local elections. The Labour Party underwent its own transformation in
the 1980s and early 1990s, abandoning unilateral nuclear disarmament and
nationalization, and developing more moderate policies on social and
economic issues. The party is now leading in opinion polls for general
elections due no later than 1997.
Both main British parties support a strong transatlantic link but have
become increasingly absorbed by European issues as Britain's economic
and political ties to the continent grow in the post-Cold War world.
June 1994 European Union-wide elections for the European Parliament in
Strasbourg saw huge gains by the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties at
the expense of the Conservatives.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the Department of State recommends that Americans avoid
travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security
information, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S.
embassies and consulates in the subject country. They can be obtained by
telephone at (202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a
modem with standard settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications
on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are available
from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, D.C. 20402, tel. (202) 783-3238.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
While planning a trip, travelers can check the latest information on
health requirements and conditions with the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559
provides telephonic or fax information on the most recent health
advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on
food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet
entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication
number CDC-94-8280, price $7.00) is available from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to
register with the U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials"
listing in this publication). Such information might assist family
members in making contact en route in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB
provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful
information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to
anyone with a personal computer, modem, telecommunications software, and
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official weekly magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press
briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc.
DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the Internet:
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Priced at
$80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs (MSDOS and
Macintosh compatible) and are available from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. Government
Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For general BBS
information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet
(gopher. stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202)
482-1986 for more information.
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