The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and unitary state governed by a parliamentary system with its seat of government in the capital city of London. It is a country consisting of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. There are three devolved national administrations, with varying powers in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, the capitals of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively. There are three Crown Dependencies and fourteen overseas territories that are not constitutionally part of the UK. These territories are remnants of the British Empire, which at its height in 1922 encompassed almost a quarter of the world’s land surface, making it the largest empire in history. As a result, British influence can still be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former territories.
The UK is a highly developed country, with the world’s sixth largest economy by nominal GDP and eighth largest economy by purchasing power parity. It was the world’s first industrialised country and the world’s foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the economic and social cost of two world wars and the decline of its empire in the latter half of the 20th century diminished its leading role in global affairs. The UK nevertheless remains a great power with leading economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence. It is a recognised nuclear weapons state while its military expenditure ranks third or fourth in the world, depending on the method of calculation. It is a Member State of the European Union, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, G8, G20, NATO, OECD, the Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization.
The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. The prevailing wind is from the southwest, bearing frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean. Eastern parts are most sheltered from this wind and are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters, especially in the west, where winters are wet, especially over high ground. Summers are warmest in the south east of England, being closest to the European mainland, and coolest in the north. Snowfall can occur in winter and early spring, though it rarely settles to great depth away from high ground.
here are 394,428 kilometres (245,086 mi) of paved roads running throughout the UK, roads with a motorway network of 3,519 kilometres (2,187 mi). There are a further 213,750 kilometres (132,818 mi) of paved roads. In 2009 there were a total of 34 million licensed vehicles in Great Britain. The rail network of the United Kingdom covers 16,454 kilometres (10,224 mi). The 16,151 kilometres (10,036 mi) in Great Britain is standard gauge, while the 303 kilometres (188 mi) in Northern Ireland is broad gauge. Plans are now being considered to build new high speed railway lines by 2025.
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The culture of the United Kingdom has been influenced by many factors including the nation’s island status and its history as a western liberal democracy, major power, and a political union of four countries, with each preserving elements of distinctive traditions, customs and symbolism. As a result of the British Empire, British influence can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies, including Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the United States.
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