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United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland(commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK or Britain) is a sovereign state located off the north-western coast of continental Europe. The country includes the island of Great Britain, the north eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. NorthernIreland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another sovereign statethe Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea.

On 1 May 1707, a new kingdom of Great Britain came into being, created by the political union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland in accordance with the Treaty of Union that had been negotiated the previous year and ratified by the English and Scottish Parliaments passing Acts of Union.In the 18th century, the country played an important role in developing Western ideas of the parliamentary system as well as making significant contributions to literature, the arts, and science.The British-led Industrial Revolution transformed the country and fuelled the growingBritish Empire.

During this time Britain, like other great powers, was involved in colonial exploitation, including the Atlantic slave trade, although with the passing of the Slave Trade Act of 1807 the United Kingdom took a leading role in battling the trade in slaves.The colonies in North America had been the main focus of British colonial activity. However, with their loss following the American War of Independence, imperial ambition turned to other parts of the globe, particularly India.

The United Kingdom is a unitary state under a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of the UK as well as of fifteen other independent Commonwealth countries. The monarch itself is symbolic rather than political, and only has "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn".The United Kingdom has an uncodified constitution,[ as do only three other countries in the world. The Constitution of the United Kingdom thus consists mostly of a collection of disparate written sources, including statutes, judgemade case law and international treaties, together with constitutional conventions.

The UK has a parliamentary government based on the Westminster system that has been emulated around the worlda legacy of the British Empire. The parliament of the United Kingdom that meets in the Palace of Westminster has two houses; an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords. Any bill passed requires Royal Assent to become law. The position of prime minister, the UK's head of government belongs to the member of parliament who can obtain the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons, usually the current leader of the largest political party in that chamber. The prime minister and cabinet are formally appointed by the monarch to form Her Majesty's Government, though the prime minister chooses the cabinet and, by convention, The Queen respects the prime minister's choices.

The UK's official language is English, a West Germanic language descended from Old English which features a large number of borrowings from Old Norse, Norman French and Latin. The English language has spread across the world, largely because of the British Empire, and has become the international language of business as well as the most widely taught second language.Scots, a language descended from early northern Middle English, is recognised at European level, as is its regional variant in the northern counties of Ireland, Ulster Scots. There are also fourCeltic languages in use in the UK: Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish. In the 2001 Census over a fifth (21%) of the population of Wales said they could speak Welsh,an increase from the 1991 Census (18%).In addition it is estimated that about 200,000 Welsh speakers live in England.

The universities of England include some of the top universities in the world; the University of Cambridge, University College London, the University of Oxford and Imperial College London are all ranked in the global top 10 in the 2010 QS World University Rankings, with Cambridge ranked first. Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) rated pupils in England 7th in the world for maths and 6th for science. The results put England's pupils ahead of other European countries, including Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

British literature' refers to literature associated with the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as well as to literature from England, Wales and Scotland prior to the formation of the UK.Most British literature is in the English language. In 2005, some 206,000 books were published in the United Kingdom and in 2006 it was the largest publisher of books in the world. The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all time.

The flag of the United Kingdom is the Union Flag (also referred to as the Union Jack). It was first created in 1606 by the superimposition of the Flag of England on the Flag of Scotland and updated in 1801 with the addition of Saint Patrick's Flag. Wales is not represented in the Union Flag as Wales had been conquered and annexed to England prior to the formation of the United Kingdom; the possibility of redesigning the Union Flag to include representation of Wales has not been completely ruled out. The national anthem of the United Kingdom is "God Save the King", with "King" replaced with "Queen" in the lyrics whenever the monarch is a woman.