Map of the United Kingdom

Countries of the United Kingdom is a term used to describe England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. These four countries together form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which is a sovereign state.[1] The alternative terms Constituent Countries and Home Nations are also used, the latter mainly for sporting purposes.[2][3] While "countries" is the commonly used descriptive term,[4] owing to the absence of a formal British constitution and the long and complex history of the formation of the United Kingdom, the countries of the UK have no official appellation. As a consequence, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are not formal subdivisions of the United Kingdom[5] and various terms are used to describe them.

As a sovereign state, the United Kingdom is the entity which is used in intergovernmental organisations, and as the representative member state within the European Union and United Nations, as well as under international law; England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are not themselves listed on the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) list of countries. However, England, Scotland and Wales have separate national governing bodies for many sports, meaning that they can compete individually in international sporting competitions; in sporting contexts, England, Northern Ireland (or all of Ireland),[6] Scotland and Wales are referred to as the Home Nations.

The Parliament of the United Kingdom and government of the United Kingdom deal with all reserved matters for Northern Ireland and Scotland and all non-transferred matters for Wales, but not in general on matters that have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. England remains the full responsibility of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which is centralised in London.

The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are dependencies of the United Kingdom but not part of the UK or of the European Union. Collectively, the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are known in UK law as the British Islands. The Republic of Ireland is a sovereign state formed from the portion of Ireland that seceded from the United Kingdom in 1922. Although part of the geographical British Isles,[7] it is no longer a part of the UK.



Flag Area
(2001 census)

England Flag of England.svg 130,395 51.4 million London No English law
Scotland Flag of Scotland.svg 78,772  5.1 million Edinburgh Yes Scots law
Wales Flag of Wales 2.svg 20,779  3.0 million Cardiff Yes English law with some devolved powers
13,843  1.7 million Belfast Yes Northern Ireland law
United Kingdom Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  243,789  62.0 million London


Various terms have been used to describe England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Acts of Union


  • The Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542 annexed the legal system of Wales to England[8] to create the single entity commonly known for centuries simply as England but recently officially renamed England and Wales. Wales was described as the "Country, Principality and Dominion", "Dominion of Wales"[8] or the "Dominion, Principality and Country" or "Dominion and Principality" of Wales.[9] Outside of Wales, England was not given a specific name or term.
  • The Acts of Union 1707 refer to both England and Scotland as a "Part of the united Kingdom"[10]
  • The Acts of Union 1800 use "Part" in the same way. They also use "Country" to describe Great Britain and Ireland respectively, when describing trade between them[11]
  • The Government of Ireland Act 1920 does not use any term or description to classify Northern Ireland nor indeed Great Britain.
Current legal terminology

The Interpretation Act 1978 provides some definitions for terms relating the countries of the United Kingdom. Use of these terms in other legislation is interpreted following the definitions in the 1978 Act. The definitions are listed below

  • "England" means, subject to any alteration of boundaries under Part IV of the Local Government Act 1972, the area consisting of the counties established by section 1 of that Act, Greater London and the Isles of Scilly." This definition applies from 1 April 1974.
  • "United Kingdom" means "Great Britain and Northern Ireland." This definition applies from 12 April 1927.
  • "Wales" means the combined area of 13 historic counties, including Monmouthshire, re-formulated into 8 new counties under section 20 of the Local Government Act 1972, as originally enacted, but subject to any alteration made under section 73 of that Act (consequential alteration of boundary following alteration of watercourse). In 1996 these 8 new counties were redistributed into the current 22 unitary authorities.
  • In the Scotland Act 1998 there is no delineation of Scotland, with the definition in section 126 simply providing that Scotland includes "so much of the internal waters and territorial sea of the United Kingdom as are adjacent to Scotland".

Identity and nationality

The United Kingdom is generally considered to be a close union by its inhabitants, with shared values, language, currency and culture, and with people moving and working freely throughout.[12]

According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, there are broadly two interpretations of British identity, with ethnic and civic dimensions:

The first group, which we term the ethnic dimension, contained the items about birthplace, ancestry, living in Britain, and sharing British customs and traditions. The second, or civic group, contained the items about feeling British, respecting laws and institutions, speaking English, and having British citizenship.[13]

Christine Ohuruogu is a professional sprinter of Nigerian descent,[14][15] who in 2008 won a gold medal for Great Britain at the Olympics. Black people have settled in Britain in large numbers since the Victorian era, with many adopting a Black British identity.

Of the two perspectives of British identity, the civic definition has become the dominant idea and in this capacity, Britishness is sometimes considered an institutional or overarching state identity.[16][17] This has been used to explain why first-, second- and third-generation immigrants are more likely to describe themselves as British, rather than English, Scottish or Welsh, because it is an "institutional, inclusive" identity, that can be acquired through naturalisation and British nationality law; the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom who are from an ethnic minority feel British.[18] However, this attitude is more common in England than in Scotland or Wales; "white English people perceived themselves as English first and as British second, and most people from ethnic minority backgrounds perceived themselves as British, but none identified as English, a label they associated exclusively with white people". Contrawise, in Scotland and Wales, all people identified more strongly with Scotland and Wales than with Britain.[19]

Studies and surveys have reported that the majority of the Scots and Welsh see themselves as both Scottish/Welsh and British though with some differences in emphasis. The Commission for Racial Equality found that with respect to notions of nationality in Britain, "the most basic, objective and uncontroversial conception of the British people is one that includes the English, the Scots and the Welsh".[20] However, "English participants tended to think of themselves as indistinguishably English or British, while both Scottish and Welsh participants identified themselves much more readily as Scottish or Welsh than as British".[20] Some persons opted "to combine both identities" as "they felt Scottish or Welsh, but held a British passport and were therefore British", whereas others saw themselves as exclusively Scottish or exclusively Welsh and "felt quite divorced from the British, whom they saw as the English".[20] Commentators have described this latter phenomenon as "nationalism", a rejection of British identity because some Scots and Welsh interpret it as "cultural imperialism imposed" upon the United Kingdom by "English ruling elites",[21] or else a response to a historical misappropriation of equating the word "English" with "British",[22] which has "brought about a desire among Scots, Welsh and Irish to learn more about their heritage and distinguish themselves from the broader British identity".[23] The propensity for nationalistic feeling varies greatly across the UK, and can rise and fall over time.[24] Following devolution and the significant broadening of autonomous governance throughout the UK in the late 1990s, debate has taken place across the United Kingdom on the relative value of full independence.[25]


England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have a national football team, and compete as separate national teams at the various disciplines in the Commonwealth Games.[26] At the Olympic Games, all the countries of the UK are represented by the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team, although athletes from Northern Ireland can choose to join the Republic of Ireland's Olympic team.[26][27] In most sports, except association football, Northern Ireland participates with the Republic of Ireland in a combined All-Ireland team, for example rugby union, cricket and the tennis Davis cup team.

See also

  • Constituent countries
  • Terminology of the British Isles



  1. ^ UK Cabinet Office: Devolution Glossary (Accessed 7 September 2010): "United Kingdom: Term used most frequently for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the modern sovereign state comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."
  2. ^ "Countries within a country". 10 Downing Street. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  3. ^ "List of all Sovereign Nations and their Capital Cities". 
  4. ^ Scottish Parliament. "Your Scotland questions; Is Scotland a country?". Retrieved 2008-08-01. "As the UK has no written constitution in the usual sense, constitutional terminology is fraught with difficulties of interpretation and it is common usage nowadays to describe the four constituent parts of the UK (Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland) as “countries”." 
  5. ^ United Nations Economic and Social Council (August 2007). "Ninth United Nations Conference on the standardization of Geographical Names" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-21. "There is [...] no common stratum of administrative unit encompassing the United Kingdom at this very high level, and England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should not be considered first-order administrative divisions in the conventional sense." 
  6. ^ "BBC America to Broadcast Live Six Nations Rugby Championship". BBC America. January 21, 2010. Retrieved 29 March 2010. 
  7. ^ Gallagher 2006, p. 7.
  8. ^ a b Laws in Wales Act 1535, Clause I
  9. ^ Laws in Wales Act 1542
  10. ^ e.g. "... to be raised in that Part of the united Kingdom now called England", "...that Part of the united Kingdom now called Scotland, shall be charged by the same Act..." Article IX
  11. ^ e.g. "That, from the first Day of January one thousand eight hundred and one, all Prohibitions and Bounties on the Export of Articles, the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of either Country, to the other, shall cease and determine; and that the said Articles shall thenceforth be exported from one Country to the other, without Duty or Bounty on such Export"; Union with Ireland Act 1800, Article Sixth.
  12. ^ "The English question". by Michael Kenny and Richard Hayton, The Institute for Public Policy Research. 
  13. ^ Park 2005, p. 153.
  14. ^ Snow, Mat (2009-01-11). "Christine Ohuruogu: Holidays are for wimps". London: Retrieved 2009-01-25. ""Her parents came to England from Nigeria in 1980 and the family name means “fighter” in their native Igbo tongue."" 
  15. ^ McRae, Donald (2008-08-02). "Mirth and melancholy of a dreamer named Ohuruogu". London: Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  16. ^ Langlands, Rebecca (1999). "Britishness or Englishness? The Historical Problem of National Identity in Britain". Nations and Nationalism 5: 53–69. DOI:10.1111/j.1354-5078.1999.00053.x. 
  17. ^ Bradley, Ian C. (2007). Believing in Britain: The Spiritual Identity of 'Britishness'. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9781845113261 
  18. ^ Frith, Maxine (2004-01-08). "Ethnic minorities feel strong sense of identity with Britain, report reveals". The Independent. London: Retrieved 2009-07-07 
  19. ^ Commission for Racial Equality 2005, p. 35.
  20. ^ a b c Commission for Racial Equality 2005, p. 22.
  21. ^ Ward 2004, pp. 2–3.
  22. ^ Kumar, Krishan (2003). "The Making of English National Identity" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-06-05 
  23. ^ "The English: Europe's lost tribe". BBC News. 1999-01-14. Retrieved 2009-06-05 
  24. ^ "Devolution, Public Attitudes and National Identity".  "The rise of the Little Englanders". London: The Guardian, John Carvel, social affairs editor. 28 November 2000. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  25. ^ "Devolution and Britishness". Devolution and Constitutional Change. UK's Economic and Social Research Council. 
  26. ^ a b World and Its Peoples, Terrytown (NY): Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2010, p. 111, "In most sports, except soccer, Northern Ireland participates with the Republic of Ireland in a combined All-Ireland team."  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "worldpeoples" defined multiple times with different content
  27. ^ "Irish and GB in Olympic Row". BBC Sport. 27 January 2004. Retrieved 29 March 2010. 


  • Gallagher, Michael (2006). The United Kingdom Today. London: Franklin Watts. ISBN 9780749664886 

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