The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (commonly known as the ' United Kingdom ', or ' UK ') is made up of the countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The term ' Great Britain ' is sometimes used to indicate England, Scotland and Wales. Great Britain is the largest island of the British Isles. On this page the term 'UK' is used informally to mean the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The UK 's Parliament is one of the oldest in the world, having its origins in the mid-thirteenth century. Its principles of free elections, freedom of speech and open and equal treatment before the law continue to be fervently upheld.
Parliament consists of three parts: the House of Commons, House of Lords and the Crown. It is responsible for making laws, examining the work of government, controlling finance, protecting the individual as well as examining European proposals and debating key issues.
At the end of the twentieth century legislation was passed by the UK Parliament to create a devolved parliament or assembly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
As a member state of the European Union the UK is bound by the various types of European Community (EC) legislation and wider policies that are based on a series of treaties signed since the 1950s. Almost all UK Government departments are involved in European Union (EU) activities. The UK has 78 members of the European Parliament and there are elections every 5 years.
UK does not have a single national flower. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have the rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock as their national flowers respectively.
The flag of Britain is commonly known as the Union Jack and embodies the emblems of three countries under one sovereign. The emblems that appear on the Union Flag are the crosses of three patron saints: the red cross of St. George on a white background (England), the white diagonal cross of St. Andrew on a blue background(Scotland) and the red diagonal cross of St. Patrick on a white background (Ireland). Wales is not represented on the National Flag because when the first version of the flag appeared, Wales was already united with England.
The British national anthem 'God Save The Queen' originated in a patriotic folk song first performed in 1745. There is no authorised version - the words used are a matter of tradition - and the title can change depending on the gender of the reigning monarch ('God Save The King' is also used).
The UK enjoys a temperate climate moderated by prevailing westerly winds and the warm North Atlantic Current. Temperatures rarely drop below zero degrees centigrade in winter or rise above 32 degrees in summer. The coldest period, when temperatures may fall to zero, is in late January to early February. It tends to be slightly colder in the north of England and in Scotland, than in the south. Frequent weather change, which is one of the UK's main climate characteristics, is mainly caused by low pressure in the Iceland area.
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of independent states, all but two of which - Mozambique and Cameroon - were once governed by the British. In 1926 the UK and all the countries concerned agreed that they are "equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations."
The modern Commonwealth was founded in 1949. From a handful of members then the Commonwealth has grown to its present day 53 members, comprising countries from almost every continent in the world. One in three people in the world is a Commonwealth citizen. They are people from many races and traditions and from very different economic backgrounds. But they have a shared heritage, based on English as a common language and similar administrative, educational, judicial and legal systems.