The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is more commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Great Britain, is a sovereign country situated north-west of mainland Europe. The United Kingdom is composed of Great Britain (an island on which England, Scotland and Wales are located) and Northern Ireland, which shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland. The Irish border aside, the United Kingdom is surrounded water and has the 12th-longest coastline in the world, with the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south, and the Celtic Sea to the south-south-west. Great Britain and Ireland are separated by the Irish Sea. The UK covers an area of 93,600 square miles), making it the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It has a diverse population of 66 million people, with London the capital and largest city.
The United Kingdom is composed of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, with their capitals being London, Belfast, Edinburgh, and Cardiff respectively. Each country in the UK (England excluded) has a devolved administration with varying powers; the nearby islands of the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey are Crown dependencies rather than members of the UK, being Crown dependencies for whose defence and international representation the British Government is responsible. The British Empire, of which only a few fragments now remain, was the largest empire in history at its peak.
A developed country, the United Kingdom features the world's fifth-largest economy, ranking 14th on the Human Development Index. Despite its relatively-small size it remains a great power with significant economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence globally. The UK is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and is a leading member state of the European Union (EU), though the country is currently negotiating its exit from the EU. It also retains membership of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Council of Europe, the G7, NATO, the G20, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Interpol, and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Queen Elizabeth II is the current ruling monarch of the United Kingdom, though she plays little part in governing the country, remaining neutral. However, The Crown is the source of executive power vested in the government.
The Crown is also vested with powers known as the Royal Prerogative, through which the monarch can undertake a range of actions such as the issue or withdrawal of passports, or even declarations of war. Most of these powers are delegated to various ministers in government, who may use them without Parliamentary consent.
The United Kingdom remains a constitutional monarchy. The reigning monarch and Head of State is not responsible for making any open political decisions – all political decisions are made by the British government and Parliament.
The British Parliament is divided into two houses: the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The House of Commons (lower house) is the more powerful – the House of Lords (upper house) votes to amend proposed laws, but the House of Commons has the power to overrule its amendments. The most important laws are introduced in the House of Commons, most of which are proposed by the government. Bills must pass through a number of readings before being established as law.
Ministers of the Crown operate in the House in which they sit, making statements in that House and taking questions from fellow members. This takes place more often in the House of Commons, rather than the House of Lords.
The British government must always maintain the confidence of the House of Commons as it requires its support for the maintenance of supply and to pass vital legislation. If a government loses the confidence of the House of Commons, it must resign its position or concede to a General Election being held. The support of the House of Lords is useful, but not crucial, to the government. Unlike with the Commons, the government does not have to resign if it loses the confidence of the Lords, making the House of Commons the Responsible house.
The Prime Minister remains an elected member of Parliament (MP) who is accountable to the House of Commons for his or her actions – the PM, as in the case of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, must always be available for questions from sitting MPs, and is held to account through Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), during which MPs from all parties question the PM on a variety of subjects.