UK Overview

The United Kingdom is the union of the three countries that occupy the Isle of Great Britain – England, Wales and Scotland – and Northern Ireland.

Cradle of modern parliamentary institutions and the Industrial Revolution, the United Kingdom maintained, until the middle of this century, one of the greatest empires in history, which reached all continents. Today it maintains close relations with its former colonies through the British Commonwealth.

According to, the country is heavily industrialized, being an exporter of industrial machinery, computers and automobiles. The United Kingdom is part of the Big Seven Group (G-7) – the seven richest countries in the world -, standing out for its solid geopolitical alliance with the United States.

Historical facts

Its territory is occupied by the Celts in the VII century; C. The conquest by the Romans, initiated in 55 a. C. by Júlio César, it is completed in 43 of the Christian era by the emperor Cláudio and it continues until the 5th century, when Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons and Jutes) invade the country and establish different kingdoms. Viking navigators from Denmark conquered it at the end of the 8th century. Finally, led by William, the Normans, coming from France, conquered Great Britain in 1066.

In 1215, the English nobles imposed the Magna Carta on the king, a document that limits the powers of the monarchy to the benefit of feudal lords. The kings start to consult regularly the Parliament – formed by representatives of the clergy and nobility – to make decisions. England loses its possessions in France with the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) and plunges into a bloody internal conflict, the War of the Two Roses (1455-1485), caused by the dispute for the throne between the York and Lancaster families.

Peace is obtained by Henry VII (1485-1509), who inaugurates the Tudor dynasty and restores the predominance of royal authority over the nobility and the clergy. Henry VIII (1509-1547), taking advantage of the fact that the Pope does not authorize his divorce, breaks with the Vatican, takes the properties of the papacy and founds the Anglican Church, of which he becomes chief.

Glorious Revolution

Disagreements over religious and tax issues led King Charles I (1625-1649) to dissolve Parliament. In 1640, however, a rebellion in Scotland (incorporated in 1603) obliges the king to recall the Parliament, which refuses to vote on the resources necessary for the war. The result is a civil war between the forces of Parliament – headed by Oliver Cromwell – and those of Charles I. Cromwell’s victory leads to the proclamation of the Republic in 1649 and the execution of the king.

The monarchy is restored in 1660, two years after Cromwell’s death. The new monarchs try to strengthen the Crown’s power at Parliament’s expense, but fail. In 1688, Jaime II is deposed by Parliament in the Glorious Revolution , which consolidates the constitutional monarchy.

In 1707, the United Kingdom of Great Britain is formed, bringing together England, Scotland and Wales. Ireland is integrated in 1801.

The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century made the United Kingdom the greatest economic power on the planet. The country, however, loses its colonies in North America, which proclaim independence from 1776. During Queen Victoria’s long reign (1837-1901), the British Empire conquered territories in Africa and Asia. In the Victorian era, the United Kingdom is also experiencing social change: under the governments of Benjamin Disraeli (conservative) and William Gladstone (liberal), the country passes social laws, recognizes unions and expands citizens’ political participation. In the Crimean War (1853-1856), the British and French alliance defeated Russia; in the Boer War (1899-1902), England imposed itself on the Dutch in South Africa.

Breakdown of the Empire

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Lloyd George, the United Kingdom emerged victorious from the First World War (1914-1918). But the Empire begins to disintegrate: in 1921, a treaty recognizes the independence of Ireland, with the exception of the northern counties of the Island (most of Ulster, called Northern Ireland). In 1923, in a coalition with the liberals, Ramsey MacDonald forms the first British Labor government. Conservatives returned to power in 1924. In 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated to marry American Walis Simpson. The throne is occupied by his brother George VI.

The increase in international tension leads Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to make concessions to Hitler’s Germany. In 1938, the United Kingdom accepted the annexation of part of Czechoslovakia to Germany, hoping to contain the Nazis. This policy failed and in September 1939 Hitler’s troops invaded Poland and forced the United Kingdom and France to go to war against Germany.

In 1940, Chamberlain was replaced by Winston Churchill, who heads a war cabinet made up of conservatives and Labor. Hardly attacked by the Germans, the country emerged victorious from the Second World War (1939-1945), alongside the USA and the USSR, but was devastated.

In 1945, Churchill loses the election to Labor Clement Atlee. The new government nationalizes industries and establishes the national health service. India, Pakistan, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Burma (now Myanmar) became independent in 1947. Conservatives returned to power with Churchill in 1951. The following year, George VI died and was succeeded by his daughter , Queen Elizabeth II.

Labor, led by Harold Wilson, returned to power in 1964.

The persistent economic crisis is compounded by the worsening nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland. In 1970, conservative Edward Heath became prime minister. The British government sent troops to Northern Ireland in 1972 to combat the terrorism of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The country’s entry into the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 does not lessen economic problems. Harold Wilson returns to power in 1974. Two years later, he is replaced by James Callagham.


In 1979, conservatives, led by Margaret Thatcher, defeated Labor at the polls. Thatcher inaugurates a government of deep economic reforms, seeking to tackle British decay through the privatization of state-owned companies and the drastic reduction of the public deficit. In 1982, Thatcher reaped the fruits of the British victory in the Falklands War (1982) against Argentina and again won the elections.

In 1984 and 1985, the “iron lady” breaks the miners’ backbone by facing a strike of more than a year without making concessions. The decline of unionism and the strengthening of its image provide Thatcher with another electoral victory in 1987.

In June 1990, the prime minister is defeated in an internal dispute in the Conservative Party and is replaced by John Major in June 1990. The IRA intensifies its terrorist attacks. Despite this, conservatives manage to maintain a majority in the 1992 general election.

Discontent with the government over the recession and unemployment – 3 million out of work in 1993 – deepens with the tax increase decided by Major to deal with the public deficit. The Conservative Party is divided over the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, which accelerates European unification. The treaty was passed in Parliament by a narrow margin in July 1993.

The government faces strong opposition to the attempt to pursue the reforms initiated by Thatcher, through new privatizations (post offices, hospitals and other services), the closure of unproductive coal mines and the imposition of productivity indices on public workers.

Major makes a deal with the Irish government, conditioning the future of Northern Ireland to the will of its inhabitants, and proposes negotiations with the IRA. On August 31, 1994, the IRA announced the suspension of the armed struggle.

In February 1995, Major and Irish Prime Minister John Bruton announced a plan for the creation of a new assembly, bringing together Catholics and Protestants, in Northern Ireland, which is rejected by Protestant leader Ian Paisley, spokesman for the “unionists” ”- supporters of maintaining the union of Northern Ireland with Great Britain.

In the same month, England’s oldest investment bank, Baring Brothers, crashes due to speculative operations by its Singapore subsidiary. The pound has a record price drop. In July, Major wins the race for the Conservative Party leadership, a month after he resigned.

In the same month, in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, the release of an English soldier, sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a young Catholic woman in 1990, provokes conflicts, with the burning of about 100 vehicles during protest demonstrations.

General data

Official name: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (United Kingdom)

Nationality: British

Capital: London

Language: English (official), Gaelic (Scotland and Northern Ireland)

Religion: Anglican – official, Christianity (Catholics, Protestants, Methodists, Reformists, Baptists)

Area: 258. 256 km²

Location: Northwest Europe

Limits: Atlantic Ocean (N to SO), North Sea (L), English Channel (S), Irish Sea and North Channel (O)

Characteristics: formed by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, plains coast (East coast), estuaries (SO), escarpments (SE) and fjords (Scotland), higher ground (N and O), Cambrian Mountains (Wales) and Grampian Mountains (Scotland), valleys with lakes (Scotland); wavy plains (center); plateaus and hills (Northern Ireland)

Climate: temperate oceanic

Local time (in relation to Brasilia): + 3h

Government regime: parliamentary monarchy

Administrative division: 8 regions subdivided into 46 counties (England)

Administered territories: Anguilla, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Isle of Man, Cayman Islands, Channel Islands, Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Pitcairn Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands, Malvinas (Falklands) 4450, Montserrat, Saint Helena, Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory

Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II (since 1952)

Main parties: Conservative, Labor, Liberal-Democrat

Legislative Organization: bicameral

House of Commons, with 651 members elected by direct vote for a maximum term of 5 years, House of Lords, with up to 1,200 members of the nobility and clergy with hereditary and / or life titles

Constitution in force: there is no written Constitution

Currency: pound sterling

UK Overview