Great Britain, officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is situated on the British Isles, off Western Europe. It is separated from France by only 34 kilometres of water. The country's total area is over 244 thousand square kilometres. The country is often referred to as Great Britain, Britain or the UK. But to be precise, Great Britain comprises England, Wales and Scotland on the island of Great Britain, while the United Kingdom includes Great Britain as well as Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland. The capital of the United Kingdom is London, in England. The capitals of Scotland, Ireland and Wales are Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff respectively. Great Britain is the fourth most populous country in Europe, it has about 57 million inhabitants. The English are more than 80 % of the country's population. English is the official language of Great Britain. The Church of England, also called the Anglican Church, is the official church in England.
Although a small island, Great Britain has a remarkable variety of landscapes. To the north and west are highlands — the mountains of Scotland, Cambria and Wales, and the Pennine Chain. To the east are flat plains, and in the south are lowlands broken by low ranges of hills. To the southwest are the bleak moors of Devon and Cornwall. A warm ocean current, the Gulf Stream, washes Britain's western shores and accounts for the mildness of its climate.
Great Britain is one of the world's leading industrialized nations. It has achieved this position despite the lack of most raw materials needed for industry. The country also must import about 40 % of its food supplies. The largest industries include machine tools; electric power, automation, and railroad equipment; ships, motor vehicle, aircraft; electronic and communications equipment; metals; chemicals; petroleum; coal; food processing; paper, textiles, and clothing. By the late 1990s, banking, insurance, business services, and other service industries accounted for two thirds of the GDP and employed almost 70 % of the workforce. The main industrial and commercial areas are the great conurbations, where about one third of the country's population lives. The administrative and financial centre and most important port is Greater London.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a constitutional monarchy. It means that the United Kingdom is governed by hereditary sovereign, an elected House of Commons and a partly hereditary House of Lords. The constitution exists in no one document but is a centuries-old accumulation of statutes, judicial decisions, usage, and tradition.
The sovereign has the title of King (or Queen). The Sovereign has very few functions that really matter, such as the function of the arbiter of last resort in some matters. The hereditary monarch is almost entirely limited to exercising ceremonial functions. These matters can be dissolution of Parliament, and invitations to form a government where there is no clear majority. The Queen is Elizabeth II.
The supreme legislative power is vested in the Parliament, which seats for five years unless sooner dissolved. The Parliament has two chambers: the House of Lords with about 830 hereditary peers, 26 spiritual peers, about 270 life peers and peeresses, and the House of Commons.
The House of Commons has 650 popularly elected members. The House of Commons is the real government body of the United Kingdom. In order to become a law, a new bill proposed by the Cabinet, must be approved by the both Houses of the Parliament. The Lords cannot veto a bill, but they can delay it for a maximum of 1 year. Financial bills cannot be delayed by the House of Lords.
The executive power of the Crown is exercised by the Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister. Prime Minister, normally the head of the party commanding a majority in the House of Commons, is appointed by the Sovereign. Prime Minister appoints the rest of the Cabinet. All ministers must be members of one or the other House of the Parliament. They are individually and collectively responsible to the Crown and the Parliament. The Cabinet proposes bills and arranges business of the Parliament.
Government in Britain, since 1945 has alternated between only two political parties: the conservatives (the Tory) and the Labour Party. No other party has been in office at all since 1945 and there have been no coalitions. The third long-established party, the Liberals, enjoyed moments of success, but no member of the Liberal Party has held government office since 1945.