United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Country Profile

Population 65.64 million (2016)
Area 243,610 sq km
Head of State Queen Elizabeth II (1952-present)
Head of Government Prime Minister Theresa May
Capitol London
Year of Independence Never colonized
Year of Current Constitution Does not have a constitution however the regime began with Magna Carta, English Bill of Rights 1689 limited the powers of the monarchy, 1999 saw the House of Lords diminished and 2005 saw the creation of the Supreme Court of the UK
Languages English is primary
GDP per Capita $41,787 (World Bank 2013)
Human Development Index Ranking 14th (very high)
Political Parties
  • Conservative
  • Labour
  • Liberal Democrats
  • Democratic Unionist
  • Scottish National
  • Co-operative
  • Green
  • Plaid Cymru
Geographic Distribution of Power Unitary- some devolution to regional legislatures


UK Political Structure Explained

The electorate selects the regional legislatures, along with the members of the House of Commons and Lords.  Members of The House of Commons are labeled as members of parliament (MPs). The House of Lords are part of Parliament as well. The Prime Minister is elected through the House of Commons and has the role of head of government. The electoral system in which officials are elected is through the Single Member District System. The SMD system enables the party with the majority of seats to elect a member of their party to represent the government as a whole, such as the Prime Minister. The Monarch has the role of head of state, this role tends to be more ceremonial, but is extremely important as the crown represents the British State.  The queen mainly deals with state functions. The Regional Legislatures are representatives of each state within the United Kingdom. The Judiciary Branch used to be under control by the House of Lords, since 2009 this power has been transferred to a new supreme court of the UK.

Through an SMD electoral system, the citizens of the UK elect Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons. The House of Commons has 646 MPs with maximum terms of five years. As individuals, MPs do not hold much power, and it is instead the political parties that hold significance. The head of the party that reaches a majority (whether a single party or through a coalition), becomes Prime Minister and takes on the role of Head of Government. The Prime Minister has a maximum term of five years and acts as a diplomat and world leader with guidance from a cabinet of about 20 MPs that he or she selects. The upper house of the UK’s bicameral legislature is the House of Lords which a virtually powerless group of 750 members that are appointed by Prime Ministers and hold their seats for life. The overarching figure in the UK’s political system is the Monarch, who is the Head of State and although doesn’t hold any political power, is a key symbol of the UK. The last part of the UK’s political structure is their Regional Legislatures. Although mostly a unitary state, the UK has devolved some power to regional legislatures of Scotland and Wales who’s officials are elected directly by the electorate.



In Recent News….

Benjamin Meuller, “What is Brexit? A Simple Guide to Why it Matters and What Happens Next.” The New York Times (March 29, 2019).

In 2013, David Cameron held a referendum asking the people whether or not the UK should remain or leave the European Union. People argued to stay in the EU for the economic safety-net, but some voted to leave because of its constraints. The final outcome was to leave. Parliament is still unable to decide on an approach to a withdrawal from the EU. The departure date was scheduled to be April 12th, but without a plan, the state is scrambling.

The Associated Press, “Facebook Bans Several UK Far-Right Groups and Individuals.” The New York Times (April 18, 2019).

Facebook has recently banned the activity of many UK far-right groups including the British National Party, the English Defense League, the National Front, and Britain First. These groups violate the Facebook policy by spreading hate and violence over the platform.

Ellen Barry, “A Drifting UKIP Ousts Leader at Center of Racism Row.” The New York Times (17 Feb. 2018)

United Kingdom Independence Party leader Henry Bolton was forced to step down after a vote of no confidence which was conducted following the revelation that his girlfriend used racist language to describe Meghan Markle, who has since married Prince Harry.

Kimiko De. Freytas-tamura, “British Citizen One Day, Illegal Immigrant the Next.” The New York Times(24 Apr. 2018)

Renford McIntrye, a child immigrant who followed his parents from the Caribbean and who has worked and paid taxes for fifty years, shares his story about the effects of Britain tightening protocol for proving legal status, which declared McIntrye to be an illegal immigrant.

Kimiko De Freytas-tamura “U.K.’s Parliament Square Gets a Female Statue. It Only Took 200 Years.” The New York Times (24 Apr. 2018).

As of the Spring of 2018, Parliament Square now includes its first female statue, of the suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett, among the other eleven male ones.

David Segal, “In Brexit Vote, Town’s Nostalgia for Seafaring Past Muddied Its Future.” The New York Times, (24 Apr. 2018)

Ceylan Yeginsu “How’s the Air in London? ‘We Should Be Worried’.” The New York Times, (22 Apr. 2018).

London’s air quality is deteriorating, with fifty percent of the pollution coming from vehicles, and has been at illegal levels since 2010 with a period that was worse than Beijing in 2017.

Alanna Petroff “Kate and William Can Afford 3 Kids. Many Brits Cannot.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, 24 Apr. 2018.

Laura Smith-Spark “UK’s May Proposes Ban on Plastic Straws, Stirrers and Cotton Swabs.” CNN (19 Apr. 2018).

Mick Krever, “David Cameron: No Regrets on Brexit Referendum.” CNN (18 Apr. 2018).

Peter Wilkinson, “UK Government Defeated on Key Brexit Vote.” CNN (18 Apr. 2018).

Current Issues

  • Rising levels of Euro skepticism in the population leading to the UK leaving the EU in 2016, rise of the nationalist, anti immigrant, populist UK independence party
  • Countries in the UK wanting more independence especially Scotland (Scottish national party), devolution and creation of Scottish national parliament and Welsh national assembly, nationalist tendencies in Scotland (2014 referendum for independence), Scotland wanting to stay in the European Union despite Britain leaving the EU
  • Electoral system is SMD and suppresses smaller, more spread out parties, meaning minority groups have trouble getting representation
  • High income inequality
  • Conflict of self identity, torn between continental Europe and its old empire status and control in the Atlantic



Salient History

Early Development→ Celts, Romans, Anglo, Saxons, Danes and Normans invaded the British Isles. Each left legacies Celtic Fringe, Common Law, Feudalism and Magna Carta. Consequence of Henry VIII’s use of Parliament strengthened and legitimized parliaments power and made religious institutions weaker. Henry VIII split from the Catholic church and made the Anglican church the church of England with himself at the head.

Emergence of Modern State→ English Civil War, King Charles executed for his absolutist rule, Parliament installed dynastic family by crowning George I(he spoke German) so he relied heavily on Prime minister and Cabinet. After the loss of American colonies, prime ministers and cabinets were selected by Parliament

Industrial Revolution→ based on the dominance in textiles, machinery and iron products. The British were the first to industrialize so they faced no competition

Gradual Democratization

Conservatives (supported the monarch)

Liberals (opposed policies of the monarch)

The expansion of voting was important because it helped the public push for policies that would develop welfare states.

Past Questions

Short Answer

#2 (2017) Electoral System, Answers 

#1  (2016) Referendum, Answers

#1 (2013) Coalition Government, Answers

Country Context 

#8 (2015) Great Britain and Nigeria, Domestic Terrorism, Answers


Review Some Terms…