Background Notes: United Kingdom 3/98


U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes: United Kingdom, March 1998 

Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs.


Official Name: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern
Ireland

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 244,820 sq. km. (94,525 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.
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.

People

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--4%;
agriculture--1%.

Government

Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: Unwritten; partly statutes, partly common law and
practice.
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 Northern Ireland.
Suffrage: British subjects and citizens of the Irish Republic
resident in the U.K., at 18.

Economy

GDP (Real GDP, 1996): $1.174 trillion.
Annual growth rate (1997): 3.2%.
Natural resources: Coal, oil, natural gas, tin, limestone, iron
ore, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, lead, silica
Agriculture: cereals, oilseed, potatoes, vegetables, cattle, sheep,
poultry, fish.
Industry (33% of GDP): Types--steel, heavy engineering and metal
manufacturing, textiles, motor vehicles and aircraft, construction,
electronics, chemicals.
Trade (1995): Exports--$295.3 billion: machinery and transport
equipment, petroleum, manufactures, chemicals. Major markets--EU,
U.S., Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Switzerland, South Africa.
Imports--$283.6 billion: machinery and transport equipment, 
manufactures,
foodstuffs, petroleum, chemicals. Major suppliers--EU, U.S., Japan,
Norway, Sweden, Switzerland.

U.S.-U.K. RELATIONS

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.

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 1996. U.S. direct investment in the U.K. in 1996 was
$143 billion. British direct investment in the U.S. was $143 
billion, accounting for 23% of total stock of foreign investment.  
This investment sustains about 1 million American jobs.

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 investment.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Phillip Lader. 
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. [44] (171) 499-9000; fax [44] (171)
409- 1637). Internet website: http://www.usembassy.org.uk

GOVERNMENT

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 650,000 Catholics.

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 Northern Ireland.

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 are ongoing.

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 Christopher Meyer 
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- 898-4255).

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

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 in Europe. 

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 202-647-4000. 

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 emergency. 

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 U.S. State Department Home Page;
this site has a link to the DOSFAN Gopher Research Collection,
which also is accessible at gopher://gopher.state.gov.

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. 

[end of document]


Return to Europe Background Notes Archive
Return to Background Notes Archive Homepage
Return to Electronic Research Collection Homepage