U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: United Kingdom, June 1997
Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs.
Official Name: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Area: 244,820 sq. km. (94,525 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than
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.
Land use: 29% arable, 48% meadows and pastures, 9% forest and
woodland, 14% other
Climate: Generally mild and temperate; weather is subject to frequent
changes but to few extremes of temperature.
Nationality: Noun--Briton(s). Adjective--British.
Population: 58.5 million (July 1996 est.)
Annual population growth rate: 0.22% (1996 est.)
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--99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--6.4/1,000. (1996 est.)
Life expectancy (1996 est.)--males 74 yrs.; females 79 yrs.
Work force (1995, 28 million): Services--76%; industry--18%;
manufacturing and engineering--18%; mining and energy--5%; construction-
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: Unwritten; partly statutes, partly common law and
Branches: Executive--monarch (chief of state), prime minister (head of
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 (1995 est.): $1.14 trillion.
Annual growth rate (1995 est.): 2.7%.
Per capita GDP (1995 est.): $19,500.
Natural resources: Coal, oil, natural gas, tin, limestone, iron ore,
salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, lead, silica
Agriculture: cereals, oilseed, potatoes, vegetables, cattle, sheep,
Industry (33% of GDP): Types--steel, heavy engineering and metal
manufacturing, textiles, motor vehicles and aircraft, construction,
Trade (1995): Exports--$241.8 billion: machinery and transport
equipment, petroleum, manufactures, chemicals. Major markets--EU, U.S.,
Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Switzerland, South Africa.
Imports--$263.8 billion: machinery and transport equipment,
manufactures, foodstuffs, petroleum, chemicals. Major suppliers--EU,
U.S., Japan, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland.
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
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. ranked
third in 1996 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 are 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 110,000, 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 a major
international trading power. London ranks with New York as a leading
international financial center.
Britain in 1996 ranked as the United States' sixth-largest trading
partner in total trade and the fourth-largest U.S. export market after
Canada, Japan, and Mexico. The British purchased $30.9 billion worth of
U.S. goods in 1996, while U.S. imports from Britain were valued at $28.9
billion. U.S. total trade with the United Kingdom in 1996 amounted to
22% of total U.S. trade with the European Union. The U.K. was the
largest source of foreign tourists in the U.S. in 1994, accounting for
$8 billion in travel receipts.
At $252 billion in 1995, total two-way direct investment between the
U.S. and Britain made the investment partnership the world's largest.
The U.S. and U.K. were also each other's largest investment partner in
1995. U.S. direct investment in the U.K. in 1995 was $120 billion.
British direct investment in the U.S. was $132 billion.
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 future
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--William J. Crowe Jr.
Minister (Deputy Chief of Mission)--Robert Bradtke
Minister for Economic Affairs--Charles Ries
Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs--Michael Habib
Minister-Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Charles Ford
The U.S. Embassy in the United Kingdom is located at: 24 Grosvenor Sq.,
W1A 1AE, London (tel.  (171) 499-9000; fax  (171) 409- 1637).
Internet website: http://www.usembassy.org.uk
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 18 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 February 1995, British 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.
In January 1996, former Senate majority leader George Mitchell was
chosen by the British and Irish governments to chair the talks, which
As of 1997, the United States has given or pledged contributions of
nearly $300 million dollars 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
Prime Minister--Tony Blair
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs--Robin Cook
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-
Current Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was elected on May 1, 1997 with
a massive 176-seat majority over the Conservatives. Blair ended an 18-
year run of Conservative (Tory) Party rule in the U.K. Blair worked hard
to reorganize and reenergize the Labour Party, moving it steadily to the
center of the political spectrum.
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.
Prime Minister Blair has promised that the U.K. will play a leading role
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 State Department 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, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100.
The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is
required). The CABB also carries international security information from
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of
Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives 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-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
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).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous
areas, are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a
country (see Principal U.S. Embassy Officials listing in this
publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an
Further Electronic Information:
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 magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings;
directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's
World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov; this site has a link to
the DOSFAN Gopher Research Collection, which also is accessible at
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual 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. Contact
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or
fax (202) 512-2250.
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
(www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
1986 for more information.
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