The United Kingdom is a state made up of the historic countries of England, Wales and Scotland, as well as Northern Ireland. It is known as the home of both modern parliamentary democracy and the Industrial Revolution.
Two world wars and the end of empire diminished its role in the 20th century, and the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union has raised significant questions about the country's global role.
Nonetheless, the United Kingdom remains an economic and military power with great political and cultural influence around the world.
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United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Population 62.8 million
Area 242,514 sq km (93,638 sq miles)
Major language English
Major religion Christianity
Life expectancy 78 years (men), 82 years (women)
Currency pound sterling
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1952 upon the death of her father, George VI.
In September 2015, she became Britain's longest-reigning monarch, surpassing the record of her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria.
She is also head of state of 16 independent countries including Canada and Australia.
As a constitutional monarch, her role in the legislative process is largely ceremonial.
Prime minister: Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson became prime minister in July 2019 after he beat Jeremy Hunt in the race to become leader of the Conservative Party.
He took over from the previous prime minister, Theresa May, who stood down as Conservative Party leader in June 2019 after failing to get Parliament to agree a way forward on Brexit.
Mr Johnson went on to win a convincing majority at a snap general election in December 2019, paving the way for Britain to leave the European Union in 2020.
The UK has a strong tradition of public service broadcasting and an international reputation for creative programme-making.
The BBC began daily radio broadcasts in 1922 and quickly came to play a pivotal role in national life. The corporation is funded by a licence fee, which every household with a TV set must pay.
Hundreds of privately-owned radio and TV stations now compete with the BBC for listeners and viewers.
There are many national and local newspapers, but print circulations have been sliding while online readership has surged.
There are more than 60 million internet users, and most British people have a social media presence.
Some key dates in British history:
1914 - Outbreak of World War I. UK enters hostilities against Germany.
1918 - War ends in November with armistice. The number of UK war dead runs to several hundred thousand.
1921 - UK agrees to the foundation of the Irish Free State. Northern Ireland remains part of the UK.
1924 - First UK government led by the Labour party under Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald.
1939 - Germany invades Poland. UK declares war on Germany.
1940 - Winston Churchill becomes prime minister.
1944 - Allied troops invade France from Britain on D-Day (6th June) and begin to fight their way towards Germany.
1945 - Germany surrenders. Labour leader Clement Atlee is elected prime minister to replace Winston Churchill. The new Labour government introduces the welfare state.
1945 - The UK becomes a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
1948 - National Health Service is established.
1949 - The UK becomes a founder member of Nato.
1960s - Decolonisation of former British-controlled territories gathers pace.
1969-1998 - British troops quell communal unrest in Northern Ireland.
1973 - The UK joins the European Economic Community.
1979 - Conservative Margaret Thatcher begins move towards deregulation of economy.
2020 - Britain leaves the European Union after a referendum vote four years earlier.