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Countries of the United Kingdom is a term used to describe Englandmarker, Northern Irelandmarker, Scotlandmarker, and Walesmarker: these four together form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelandmarker, which is also described as a country and is the sovereign state. While "countries" is the commonly used descriptive term, owing to the lack of a formal British constitution, and the protracted 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 and various terms are used to describe them.

The Parliament of the United Kingdommarker and Her Majesty's Government in 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 Parliamentmarker and Welsh Assembly. England remains the full responsibility of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which is centralised in Londonmarker. As the sovereign state, the United Kingdom as a whole 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.

The Channel Islands and the Isle of Manmarker are British Islands, but are not under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. The republic of Irelandmarker is a sovereign state: although part of the geographical British Islesmarker, it is not a country of the UK.

Table of the countries of the United Kingdom


Flag Area

(2001 census)




Englandmarker 130,395 49.1 million Londonmarker No Combined
with Wales
None 13,843  1.7 million Belfastmarker Yes Separate
Scotlandmarker 78,772  5.1 million Edinburghmarker Yesmarker Separate
Walesmarker 20,779  2.9 million Cardiffmarker Yes Combined
with England

UK terminology

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

Legal terminology

There is no term in the law of the United Kingdom for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales as a group of individual parts. Terminology has evolved out of usage and preference. The distinct continuance of the former states was not contemplated in these statutes; each one was a complete incorporating union. Nevertheless for various purposes they do refer to the areas of the former states.

In the Acts of Union
  • The Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542 annexed the legal system of Wales to England to create the single entity commonly known today as England and Wales. Wales was described as the "Country, Principality and Dominion", "Dominion of Wales" or the "Dominion, Principality and Country" or "Dominion and Principality" of Wales. 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"
  • 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
  • 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 Monmouthshiremarker, 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.

Note that there is no definition of Scotland or Northern Ireland.Even in the Scotland Act 1998 there is no delineation of the country, 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". See also Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999 and Anglo-Scottish border.

Identity within the UK

The multi-national nature of the UK leads to diverse expressions of identity. Generally the UK countries are considered to be a close union, with shared values, language, currency and culture, and with people moving and working freely throughout. Many citizens of the UK cite "Britain" or "United Kingdom" as their country and "British" as their nationality. Others identify solely with England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, while many identify primarily with one of these, but hold a sense of 'Britishness' in equal or high esteem. People with parents and backgrounds of mixed nationality can ally with more than one of the constituent countries. Many people in Northern Ireland strongly identify with being British, and a large minority cite their sole nationality as "Irish", while others identify with both cultures, and others primarily with the country of Northern Ireland itself. UK citizens with ethnic backgrounds (especially those descended from the British Commonwealth) can often identify with the nationality of their descendants, while having (or sharing) a UK identity in any of its strengths or forms.

The propensity for nationalistic feeling varies greatly across the UK, and can rise and fall over time. 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.

See also


  1. Laws in Wales Act 1535, Clause I
  2. Laws in Wales Act 1542
  3. 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
  4. 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.

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