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Countries of the United Kingdom

Countries of the United Kingdom
Category Administrative division
Location United Kingdom
Found in Jurisdictions
Number 4
Possible status NUTS 1 region (3)
European constituency (3)
Jurisdiction (2)
Additional status Home Nations
Government Devolved legislature (3)
None (1)

The United Kingdom (UK) comprises four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.[1][2]

Within United Kingdom, a unitary sovereign state, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have gained a degree of autonomy, through the process of devolution. The UK Parliament and British Government deal with all reserved matters for Northern Ireland and Scotland and all non-transferred matters for Wales, but not in general matters that have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales. Additionally, devolution in Northern Ireland is conditional on co-operation between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government of Ireland (see North/South Ministerial Council) and the British Government consults with the Government of Ireland to reach agreement on some non-devolved matters for Northern Ireland (see British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference). England remains fully the responsibility of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which is centralised in London.

England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are not themselves listed in the list of countries. However the ISO list of the subdivisions of the UK, compiled by British Standards and the UK's Office for National Statistics, uses "country" to describe England, Scotland and Wales.[3] Northern Ireland, in contrast, is described as a "province" in the same lists.[3] Each have separate national governing bodies for sports and compete separately in many international sporting competitions, including the Commonwealth Games. Northern Ireland also forms joint All-Island sporting bodies with the Republic of Ireland for most sports, including rugby union.[4]

The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are dependencies of the Crown and are not part of the UK. Similarly, the British overseas territories, remnants of the British Empire, are not part of the UK.

Historically, from 1801, following the Acts of Union, until 1921 the whole island of Ireland was a country within the UK. Ireland was split into two separate jurisdictions in 1921: Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland. Southern Ireland seceded from the UK in 1922.


  • Key facts 1
  • Terminology 2
    • Acts of Parliament 2.1
      • Current legal terminology 2.1.1
  • Identity and nationality 3
  • Competitions 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
    • Notes 6.1
    • Bibliography 6.2

Key facts

Name Flag Population Area (km²) Pop. density
(per km²)
Capital Legislature Legal systems Jurisdiction
England 53,012,456 130,395 406.55 London English law England and Wales
Scotland 5,295,000 78,772 67.22 Edinburgh Scottish Parliament Scots law Scotland
Wales 3,063,456 20,779 147.43 Cardiff National Assembly for Wales English law, Welsh law England and Wales
Northern Ireland 1,810,863 13,843 130.81 Belfast Northern Ireland Assembly Northern Ireland law, Irish land law Northern Ireland
United Kingdom 63,181,775 243,789 259.16 London UK Parliament UK administrative law United Kingdom


Various terms have been used to describe England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Acts of Parliament

Documents relevant to personal
and legislative unions of the
countries of the United Kingdom
Treaty of Windsor 1175
Treaty of York 1237
Treaty of Perth 1266
Treaty of Montgomery 1267
Treaty of Aberconwy 1277
Statute of Rhuddlan 1284
Treaty of Edinburgh–N'hampton 1328
Treaty of Berwick 1357
Poynings' Law 1495
Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542
Crown of Ireland Act 1542
Treaty of Edinburgh 1560
Union of the Crowns 1603
Union of England and Scotland Act 1603
Act of Settlement 1701
Act of Security 1704
Alien Act 1705
Treaty of Union 1706
Acts of Union 1707
Personal Union of 1714 1714
Wales and Berwick Act 1746
Irish Constitution 1782
Acts of Union 1800
Government of Ireland Act 1920
Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921
Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927
N. Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972
Northern Ireland Assembly 1973
N. Ireland Constitution Act 1973
Northern Ireland Act 1998
Government of Wales Act 1998
Scotland Act 1998
Government of Wales Act 2006
Scotland Act 2012
Edinburgh Agreement 2012
  • The Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542 annexed the legal system of Wales to England[5] to create the single entity commonly known for centuries simply as England, but later officially renamed England and Wales. Wales was described (in varying combinations) as the "country", "principality", and "dominion" of Wales.[5][6] Outside of Wales, England was not given a specific name or term. The Laws in Wales Acts have subsequently been repealed.[7][8]
  • The Acts of Union 1707 refer to both England and Scotland as a "part" of the United Kingdom[9]
  • The Acts of Union 1800 use "part" in the same way to refer to England and Scotland. However, they use the word "country" to describe Great Britain and Ireland respectively, when describing trade between them[10]
  • The Government of Ireland Act 1920 described Great Britain, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland as "countries" in provisions relating to taxation.
  • The Northern Ireland Act 1998, which repealed the Government of Ireland Act 1920, does not use any term to describe Northern Ireland.

Current legal terminology

The Interpretation Act 1978 provides statutory definitions of the terms "England", "Wales" and the "United Kingdom", but neither that Act nor any other current statute defines "Scotland" or "Northern Ireland". Use of the first three terms in other legislation is interpreted following the definitions in the 1978 Act. The definitions in the 1978 Act are listed below:

  • "England" means, "subject to any alteration of boundaries under Part IV of the Local Government Act 1972, the area consisting of the counties established by section 1 of that Act, Greater London and the Isles of Scilly." This definition applies from 1 April 1974.
  • "United Kingdom" means "Great Britain and Northern Ireland." This definition applies from 12 April 1927.
  • "Wales" means the combined area of 13 historic counties, including Monmouthshire, re-formulated into 8 new counties under section 20 of the Local Government Act 1972, as originally enacted, but subject to any alteration made under section 73 of that Act (consequential alteration of boundary following alteration of watercourse). In 1996 these 8 new counties were redistributed into the current 22 unitary authorities.

In the Scotland Act 1998 there is no delineation of Scotland, with the definition in section 126 simply providing that Scotland includes "so much of the internal waters and territorial sea of the United Kingdom as are adjacent to Scotland".

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 refers to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as "parts" of the United Kingdom in the following clause: "Each constituency shall be wholly in one of the four parts of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland)."

"Regions": For purposes of NUTS 1 collection of statistical data in a format that is compatible with similar data that is collected elsewhere in the European Union, the United Kingdom has been divided into twelve regions of approximately equal size.[11] Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are regions in their own right while England has been divided into nine regions.

The official term rest of the UK (RUK or rUK) is used in Scotland, for example in export statistics[12] and in legislating for student funding.[13] This term is also used in the context of potential Scottish independence to mean the UK without Scotland.

The alternative term Home Nations is sometimes used in sporting contexts and may include all of the island of Ireland.

Identity and nationality

According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, there are broadly two interpretations of British identity, with ethnic and civic dimensions:

The first group, which we term the ethnic dimension, contained the items about birthplace, ancestry, living in Britain, and sharing British customs and traditions. The second, or civic group, contained the items about feeling British, respecting laws and institutions, speaking English, and having British citizenship.[14]

Of the two perspectives of British identity, the civic definition has become the dominant idea and in this capacity, Britishness is sometimes considered an institutional or overarching state identity.[15][16] This has been used to explain why first-, second- and third-generation immigrants are more likely to describe themselves as British, rather than English, Scottish or Welsh, because it is an "institutional, inclusive" identity, that can be acquired through naturalisation and British nationality law; the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom who are from an ethnic minority feel British.[17] However, this attitude is more common in England than in Scotland or Wales; "white English people perceived themselves as English first and as British second, and most people from ethnic minority backgrounds perceived themselves as British, but none identified as English, a label they associated exclusively with white people". Contrariwise, in Scotland and Wales "there was a much stronger identification with each country than with Britain. "[18]

Studies and surveys have reported that the majority of the Scots and Welsh see themselves as both Scottish/Welsh and British though with some differences in emphasis. The Commission for Racial Equality found that with respect to notions of nationality in Britain, "the most basic, objective and uncontroversial conception of the British people is one that includes the English, the Scots and the Welsh".[19] However, "English participants tended to think of themselves as indistinguishably English or British, while both Scottish and Welsh participants identified themselves much more readily as Scottish or Welsh than as British".[19] Some people opted "to combine both identities" as "they felt Scottish or Welsh, but held a British passport and were therefore British", whereas others saw themselves as exclusively Scottish or exclusively Welsh and "felt quite divorced from the British, whom they saw as the English".[19] Commentators have described this latter phenomenon as "nationalism", a rejection of British identity because some Scots and Welsh interpret it as "cultural imperialism imposed" upon the United Kingdom by "English ruling elites",[20] or else a response to a historical misappropriation of equating the word "English" with "British",[21] which has "brought about a desire among Scots, Welsh and Irish to learn more about their heritage and distinguish themselves from the broader British identity".[22] The propensity for nationalistic feeling varies greatly across the UK, and can rise and fall over time.[23]

The state-funded Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey,[24] running since 1998 as part of a joint project between the University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast, addressed the issue of identity in 2009. It reported that 35% of people identified as British, whilst 32% identified as Irish and 27% identified as Northern Irish. 2% opted to identify themselves as Ulster, whereas 4% stated other. Of the two main religious groups, 63% of Protestants identified as British as did 6% of Catholics; 66% of Catholics identified as Irish as did 3% of Protestants. 29% of Protestants and 23% of Catholics identified as Northern Irish.[25]

Following devolution and the significant broadening of autonomous governance throughout the UK in the late 1990s, debate has taken place across the United Kingdom on the relative value of full independence.[26]


England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have separate national governing bodies for sports and compete separately in many international sporting competitions.[27][28][29][30] Each country of the United Kingdom has a national football team, and competes as a separate national team at the various disciplines in the Commonwealth Games.[31] At the Olympic Games, the United Kingdom is represented by the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team, although athletes from Northern Ireland can choose to join the Republic of Ireland's Olympic team.[31][32] Also in addition to Northern Ireland having its own national governing bodies for some sports such as Association football and Netball, for others, such as rugby union and cricket, Northern Ireland also participates with the Republic of Ireland in a joint All-Island team. England and Wales also field a joint cricket team.

The United Kingdom also competes in the Eurovision Song Contest as the United Kingdom, as it does at the Olympic Games.

See also



  1. ^ Are Scotland, England, Wales, or Northern Ireland independent countries? geography
  2. ^ UK Cabinet Office: Devolution Glossary (Accessed 7 September 2010): "United Kingdom: Term used most frequently for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the modern sovereign state comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."
  3. ^ a b ISO Newsletter ii-3-2011-12-13
  4. ^ "Sport Northern Ireland | Performance | Governing Bodies of Sport". 2009-12-01. Retrieved 2014-02-23. 
  5. ^ a b Laws in Wales Act 1535, Clause I
  6. ^ Laws in Wales Act 1542
  7. ^ Laws in Wales Act 1535 (repealed 21.12.1993)
  8. ^ Laws in Wales Act 1542 (repealed)
  9. ^ e. g. "... to be raised in that Part of the united Kingdom now called England", "...that Part of the united Kingdom now called Scotland, shall be charged by the same Act..." Article IX
  10. ^ e. g. "That, from the first Day of January one thousand eight hundred and one, all Prohibitions and Bounties on the Export of Articles, the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of either Country, to the other, shall cease and determine; and that the said Articles shall thenceforth be exported from one Country to the other, without Duty or Bounty on such Export"; Union with Ireland Act 1800, Article Sixth.
  11. ^ "Regulation (EC) No 1059/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union of 26 May 2003 on the establishment of a common classification of territorial units for statistics (NUTS)". The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Retrieved 2010-12-22. 
  12. ^ "RUK exports". Scottish Government. Retrieved 13 August 2011. 
  13. ^ "Response to Scottish Government proposals for RUK fees". Edinburgh University Students' Association. Retrieved 13 August 2011. 
  14. ^ Park 2005, p. 153.
  15. ^ Langlands, Rebecca (1999). "Britishness or Englishness? The Historical Problem of National Identity in Britain". Nations and Nationalism 5: 53–69.  
  16. ^ Bradley, Ian C. (2007). Believing in Britain: The Spiritual Identity of 'Britishness'. I. B. Tauris.  
  17. ^ Frith, Maxine (2004-01-08). "Ethnic minorities feel strong sense of identity with Britain, report reveals".  
  18. ^ Commission for Racial Equality 2005, p. 35
  19. ^ a b c Commission for Racial Equality 2005, p. 22
  20. ^ Ward 2004, pp. 2–3.
  21. ^ Kumar, Krishan (2003). "The Making of English National Identity" (PDF). assets. Retrieved 2009-06-05. 
  22. ^ "The English: Europe's lost tribe".  
  23. ^ "Devolution, Public Attitudes and National Identity". www.  "The rise of the Little Englanders". London: The Guardian, John Carvel, social affairs editor. 28 November 2000. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  24. ^ "Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey home page". University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast. Retrieved 2011-05-08. 
  25. ^ "Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey 2009, national identity module". University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast. Retrieved 2011-05-08. 
  26. ^ "Devolution and Britishness". Devolution and Constitutional Change. UK's Economic and Social Research Council. 
  27. ^ "Sport England".  
  28. ^ "Sport Northern Ireland".  
  29. ^ "Sportscotland".  
  30. ^ "Sport Wales".  
  31. ^ a b World and Its Peoples, Terrytown (NY): Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2010, p. 111, In most sports, except soccer, Northern Ireland participates with the  
  32. ^ "Irish and GB in Olympic Row". BBC Sport. 27 January 2004. Retrieved 29 March 2010. 


  • Gallagher, Michael (2006). The United Kingdom Today. London: Franklin Watts.  
  • Park, Alison (2005), British Social Attitudes: The 21st Report, SAGE,  
  • Ward, Paul (2004), Britishness Since 1870, Routledge,  
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