The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, usually shortened to the United Kingdom, covers a land area of 243,000 sq. km. (93,000 sq. mi.), slightly smaller than Oregon.
The United Kingdom lies near vital North Atlantic sea lanes, situated only 35 km. from France and linked by tunnel under the English Channel. Due to its heavily indented coastline, no location is more than 125 km. from tidal waters. The United Kingdom's population in 2004 surpassed 60 million making it the 3rd-largest in the European Union and the 21st-largest in the world. Its overall population density is one of the highest in the world. Almost one-third of the population lives in England's prosperous and fertile southeast and is predominantly urban and suburban--with about 7.2 million in the capital of London, which remains the largest city in Europe. Other cities include Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Bradford, Manchester, Edinburgh, Bristol, and Belfast. Overseas territories and dependent areas include Anguilla, Bermuda, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The major ethnic groups include British, Irish, West Indian, and South Asian; major languages are English, Welsh, Irish Gaelic, and Scottish Gaelic. Major religions include the Church of England (Anglican), the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), Roman Catholic, and Muslim.
The terrain consists of mostly rugged hills and low mountains, with level to rolling plains in the east and southeast areas. In general, land use is 30% arable, 50% meadow and pasture, 12% waste or urban, 7% forested, and 1% inland water. The climate is mild and temperate. The weather is moderated by prevailing southwest winds over the North Atlantic Current resulting in overcast days for half the year.
The United Kingdom, like the United States, is comprised of several administrative units: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Both Wales and Scotland were independent kingdoms that resisted English rule until the English conquest of Wales in 1282, and the 1707 unification of England and Scotland as Great Britain.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy; executive power rests with the monarch but is exercised by a committee of cabinet ministers. Since February 6, 1952, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has been head of state. The heir apparent is Prince Charles, son of the queen, who was born November 14, 1948. The Labour Party has a 67-seat majority in the House of Commons. The major opposition parties are the Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats. On June 27, 2007, Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.
CIA World Factbook, U.S. State Department Background Notes, 7/2007, 2/2007