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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK or U.K.) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the northwestern coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom comprises the island of Great Britain (containing the ancient nations of England, Scotland and Wales) and the northeastern part of the island of Ireland (Northern Ireland), together with many smaller islands. Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland situated mainly on the south part of the island. The United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the north and west, the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the southwest, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and the island of Ireland. The total area of the United Kingdom is 94,000 square miles (240,000 km2).
Politically the United Kingdom is a unitary parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy.The United Kingdom does not have a codified constitution but an unwritten one formed of Acts of Parliament, court judgments, traditions, and conventions. The current monarch is Queen Elizabeth II, who has reigned since 1952, making her the world’s longest-serving current head of state and the longest serving monarch in the history of all the constituent nations of the United Kingdom, having surpassed Queen Victoria’s previous record. The United Kingdom’s capital is London, a global city and financial centre with an urban area population of 10.3 million. Other major UK cities include Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, all in England, and Glasgow in Scotland.
The United Kingdom consists of four constituent countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their capitals are London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, respectively. Apart from England, the countries have their own devolved governments, each with varying powers, but such power is delegated by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which may enact laws unilaterally altering or abolishing devolution. The nearby Isle of Man, Bailiwick of Guernsey and Bailiwick of Jersey are not part of the UK, being Crown dependencies with the British Government responsible for defence and international representation. The medieval conquest and subsequent annexation of Wales by the Kingdom of England, followed by the union between England and Scotland in 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, and the union in 1801 of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Five-sixths of Ireland seceded from the UK in 1922, leaving the present formulation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The UK’s current name was adopted in 1927 to reflect the change. There are fourteen British Overseas Territories, the remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in the 1920s, encompassed almost a quarter of the world’s landmass and was the largest empire in history. British influence can be observed in the language, culture and political systems of many of its former colonies