United Kingdom
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--99%

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%. Agriculture--1%.


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.


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 products, fish.
Industry (33% of GDP): Types--steel, heavy engineering and metal manufacturing, textiles, motor vehicles and aircraft, construction, electronics, chemicals.
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, Switzerland.


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 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 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 effort.

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 political parties.

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-


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 June.

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 future investment.

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. [44] (171) 499-9000; fax [44] (171) 409- 1637).

Background Materials

George C. Marshall

United Kingdom



President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
Privacy Statement


Site Map

Graphic Version

T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E