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Friday 10 January 2003

countries within a country

The United Kingdom is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its full name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Great Britain, however, comprises only England, Scotland and Wales. Great Britain is the largest island of the British Isles. Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic form the second largest island.

The UK is just under 1,000 km long from the south coast of England to the extreme north of Scotland, and is 500 km across at its widest point. It shares a single land border with the Irish Republic. Despite its relatively small size the UK boasts incredibly varied and often very beautiful scenery.

The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not part of the United Kingdom. They are largely self-governing with their own legislative assemblies and systems of law. But the British Government is responsible for their defence and international relations.

On this site the term ‘Britain’ is used informally to mean the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Read on to find out more about how England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are administered.


In contrast to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, England has no separate elected national body responsible for its central administration. Instead, a number of government departments administer England’s day-to-day affairs.

In May 2000, Londoners voted for a directly elected Mayor for the capital, and a separately elected assembly. The Mayor and the Assembly form the Greater London Authority.

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Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom with a devolved legislative Assembly and a power sharing Executive made up of ministers from four political parties representing different traditions.

Devolution in Northern Ireland was suspended in October 2002. Powers previously with the Northern Ireland Executive reverted to the Northern Ireland Office. These include policy relating to economic and social matters, agriculture and rural development; culture, arts, education, health, social services and public safety.

Northern Ireland is represented in the UK Cabinet by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt. Hon. Shaun Woodward MP.

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Scotland is part of the United Kingdom with a devolved legislative made up of the Scottish Executive, responsible for handling Scotland’s day-to-day affairs, and the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Executive is responsible for health, education, crime, housing and economic development. The UK Government retains responsibility for employment, fiscal and economic policy, taxation, social security benefits and pensions.

Scotland is represented in the UK Cabinet by the Secretary of State for Scotland, The Rt Hon Des Browne MP.

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Wales is part of the United Kingdom with a devolved legislative, the Welsh Assembly Government. The Welsh Cabinet is the main decision-making body within the Assembly.

The Cabinet is led by First Minister assisted by a Deputy First Minister and six Ministers responsible for education, environmental issues, local government finance, health and social services, rural affairs, culture and sport.

Wales is represented in the UK Cabinet by the Secretary of State for Wales, Rt. Hon. Peter Hain MP.

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Isle of Man

The Isle of Man lies in the Irish Sea between England, Scotland and Ireland and is not part of the UK. The Islewas brought under Crown administration in 1765 but is still largely self governing.

The local parliament is called the Tynwald. It is the oldest Parliament in the world in continuous existence.

One of the curiosities of the island is the Manx breed of cat - which has no tail.

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Channel Islands

The Channel Islands lie 16 km to 48 km off the northwest coast of France. They are not part of the UK, but became legal dependencies of Crown at the time of the Norman invasion in 1066.

There are two main islands (Jersey and Guernsey) two smaller islands (Alderney and Sark) and a host of tiny islands. They are divided into two administrative dependencies: the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which also includes the islands ofAlderney and Sark.

In each Bailiwick a Lieutenant-Governor is the personal representative of the Monarch, and a Bailiff presides over the legislatures and Royal Courts.

Find out more on these websites:

Overseas Territories

The UK also has 14 Overseas Territories (OTs) spread throughout the globe. They range from the tiny island of Pitcairn with its 54 inhabitants, set in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to Bermuda, which has a population of 60,000 and is one of the world’s major financial centres.

The Overseas Territories are constitutionally not part of the United Kingdom. They have separate constitutions, and most OTs have elected governments with varying degrees of responsibilities for domestic matters. The Governor, who is appointed by and represents the Monarch, retains responsibility for external affairs, internal security, defence, and in most cases the public service.

Find out more on the FCO website about the overseas territories (external link).


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