Compiled from the January 2008 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.
Area: 243,000 sq. km. (93,000 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Oregon.
Cities: Capital—London (metropolitan pop. about 7.2 million). Other cities—Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Bradford, Manchester, Edinburgh, Bristol, Belfast.
Terrain: 30% arable, 50% meadow and pasture, 12% waste or urban, 7% forested, 1% inland water.
Land use: 25% arable, 46% meadows and pastures, 10% forests and woodland, 19% other.
Climate: Generally mild and temperate; weather is subject to frequent changes but to few extremes of temperature.
Nationality: Noun—Briton(s). Adjective—British.
Population: (2007 est.) 60.8 million.
Annual population growth rate: (2007 est.) 0.275%.
Ethnic groups: British, Irish, West Indian, South Asian.
Languages: English, Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic.
Education: Years compulsory—12. Attendance—nearly 100%. Literacy—99%.
Work force: (2007, 31.1 million) Services—80.4%; industry—18.2%; agriculture—1.4%.
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: Unwritten; partly statutes, partly common law and practice.
Government branches: Executive—monarch (head of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative—bicameral Parliament: House of Commons, House of Lords; Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and Northern Ireland Assembly. Judicial—magistrates’ courts, county courts, high courts, appellate courts, House of Lords.
Political subdivisions: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland (municipalities, counties, and parliamentary constituencies).
Political parties: Great Britain—Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats; also, in Scotland—Scottish National Party. Wales—Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales). Northern Ireland—Ulster Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, Alliance Party, and other smaller parties.
Suffrage: British subjects and citizens of other Commonwealth countries and the Irish Republic resident in the U.K., at 18.
GDP: (at current market prices, 2007 est.) $2.15 trillion.
Annual growth rate: (2007 est.) 2.9%.
Per capita GDP: (2007 est.) $35,300.
Agriculture: (1.1% of GDP) Products—cereals, oilseed, potatoes, vegetables, cattle, sheep, poultry, fish.
Industry: Types—steel, heavy engineering and metal manufacturing, textiles, motor vehicles and aircraft, construction (5.2% of GDP), electronics, chemicals.
Trade: (2007 est.) Exports of goods and services—$415.6 billion: manufactured goods, fuels, chemicals; food, beverages, tobacco. Major markets—U.S., European Union. Imports of goods and services—$595.6 billion: manufactured goods, machinery, fuels, foodstuffs. Major suppliers—U.S., European Union, China.
The United Kingdom's population in 2004 surpassed 60 million—the third-largest in the European Union. Its overall population density is one of the highest in the world. Almost one-third of the population lives in England's prosperous and fertile southeast and is predominantly urban and suburban—with about 7.2 million in the capital of London, which remains the largest city in Europe. The United Kingdom's high literacy rate (99%) is attributable to universal public education introduced for the primary level in 1870 and secondary level in 1900. Education is mandatory from ages 5 through 16. About one-fifth of British students go on to post-secondary education. The Church of England and the Church of Scotland are the official churches in their respective parts of the country, but most religions found in the world are represented in the United Kingdom.
A group of islands close to continental Europe, the British Isles have been subject to many invasions and migrations, especially from Scandinavia and the continent, including Roman occupation for several centuries. Contemporary Britons are descended mainly from the varied ethnic stocks that settled there before the 11th century. The pre-Celtic, Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Norse influences were blended in Britain under the Normans, Scandinavian Vikings who had lived in Northern France. Although Celtic languages persist in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, the predominant language is English, which is primarily a blend of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French.
The Roman invasion of Britain in 55 BC and most of Britain's subsequent incorporation into the Roman Empire stimulated development and brought more active contacts with the rest of Europe. As Rome's strength declined, the country again was exposed to invasion—including the pivotal incursions of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in the fifth and sixth centuries AD—up to the Norman conquest in 1066. Norman rule effectively ensured Britain's safety from further intrusions; certain institutions, which remain characteristic of Britain, could develop. Among these are a political, administrative, cultural, and economic center in London; a separate but established church; a system of common law; distinctive and distinguished university education; and representative government.
Both Wales and Scotland were independent kingdoms that resisted English rule. The English conquest of Wales succeeded in 1282 under Edward I, and the Statute of Rhudlan established English rule 2 years later. To appease the Welsh, Edward's son (later Edward II), who had been born in Wales, was made Prince of Wales in 1301. The tradition of bestowing this title on the eldest son of the British Monarch continues today. An act of 1536 completed the political and administrative union of England and Wales.
While maintaining separate parliaments, England and Scotland were ruled under one crown beginning in 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded his cousin Elizabeth I as James I of England. In the ensuing 100 years, strong religious and political differences divided the kingdoms. Finally, in 1707, England and Scotland were unified as Great Britain, sharing a single Parliament at West-minster.
Ireland's invasion by the Anglo-Normans in 1170 led to centuries of strife. Successive English kings sought to conquer Ireland. In the early 17th century, large-scale settlement of the north from Scotland and England began. After its defeat, Ireland was subjected, with varying degrees of success, to control and regulation by Britain.
The legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland was completed on January 1, 1801, under the name of the United Kingdom. However, armed struggle for independence continued sporadically into the 20th century. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 established the Irish Free State, which subsequently left the Commonwealth and became a republic after World War II. Six northern, predominantly Protestant, Irish counties have remained part of the United Kingdom.
British Expansion and Empire
Begun initially to support William the Conqueror's (c. 1029-1087) holdings in France, Britain's policy of active involvement in continental European affairs endured for several hundred years. By the end of the 14th century, foreign trade, originally based on wool exports to Europe, had emerged as a cornerstone of national policy.
The foundations of sea power were gradually laid to protect English trade and open up new routes. Defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 firmly established England as a major sea power. Thereafter, its interests out-side Europe grew steadily. Attracted by the spice trade, English mercantile interests spread first to the Far East. In search of an alternate route to the Spice Islands, John Cabot reached the North American continent in 1498. Sir Walter Raleigh organized the first, short-lived colony in Virginia in 1584, and permanent English settlement began in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia. During the next two centuries, Britain extended its influence abroad and consolidated its political development at home.
Great Britain's industrial revolution greatly strengthened its ability to oppose Napoleonic France. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the United Kingdom was the fore-most European power, and its navy ruled the seas. Peace in Europe allowed the British to focus their interests on more remote parts of the world, and, during this period, the British Empire reached its zenith. British colonial expansion reached its height largely during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Queen Victoria's reign witnessed the spread of British technology, commerce, lan-
guage, and government throughout the British Empire, which, at its greatest extent, encompassed roughly one-fifth to one-quarter of the world's area and population. British colonies contributed to the United Kingdom's extraordinary economic growth and strengthened its voice in world affairs. Even as the United Kingdom extended its imperial reach overseas, it continued to develop and broaden its democratic institutions at home.
By the time of Queen Victoria's death in 1901, other nations, including the United States and Germany, had developed their own industries; the United Kingdom's comparative economic advantage had lessened, and the ambitions of its rivals had grown. The losses and destruction of World War I, the depression of the 1930s, and decades of relatively slow growth eroded the United Kingdom's preeminent international position of the previous century. Britain's control over its empire loosened during the interwar period. Ireland, with the exception of six northern counties, gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1921. Nationalism became stronger in other parts of the empire, particularly in India and Egypt.
In 1926, the United Kingdom, completing a process begun a century earlier, granted Australia, Canada, and New Zealand complete autonomy within the empire. They became charter members of the British Commonwealth of Nations (now known as the Commonwealth), an informal but closely-knit association that succeeded the empire. Beginning with the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the remainder of the British Empire was almost completely dismantled. Today, most of Britain's former colonies belong to the Commonwealth, almost all of them as independent members. There are, however, 13 former British colonies—including Bermuda, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, and others—which have elected to continue their political links with London and are known as United Kingdom Overseas Territories.
Although often marked by economic and political nationalism, the Commonwealth offers the United Kingdom a voice in matters concerning many developing countries. In addition, the Commonwealth helps preserve many institutions deriving from British experience and models, such as parliamentary democracy, in those countries.
The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution. The equivalent body of law is based on statute, common law, and “traditional rights.” Changes may come about formally through new acts of Parliament, informally through the acceptance of new practices and usage, or by judicial precedents. Although Parliament has the theoretical power to make or repeal any law, in actual practice the weight of 700 years of tradition restrains arbitrary actions. Executive power rests nominally with the monarch but actually is exercised by a committee of ministers (cabinet) traditionally selected from among the members of the House of Commons and, to a lesser extent, the House of Lords. The prime minister is normally the leader of the largest party in the Commons, and the government is dependent on its support.
Parliament represents the entire country and can legislate for the whole or for any constituent part or combination of parts. The maximum parliamentary term is 5 years, but the prime minister may ask the monarch to dissolve Parliament and call a general election at any time. The focus of legislative power is the 646-member House of Commons, which has sole jurisdiction over finance. The House of Lords, although shorn of most of its powers, can still review, amend, or delay temporarily any bills except those relating to the budget. The House of Lords has more time than the House of Commons to pursue one of its more important functions—debating public issues. In 1999, the government removed the automatic right of hereditary peers to hold seats in the House of Lords. The current house consists of appointed life peers who hold their seats for life and 92 hereditary peers who will hold their seats only until final reforms have been agreed upon and implemented. The judiciary is independent of the legislative and executive branches but cannot review the constitutionality of legislation.
The separate identities of each of the United Kingdom's constituent parts are also reflected in their respective governmental structures. Up until the recent devolution of power to Scotland and Wales, a cabinet minister (the Secretary of State for Wales) handled Welsh affairs at the national level with the advice of a broadly representative council for Wales. Scotland maintains, as it did before union with England, different systems of law (Roman-French), education, local government, judiciary, and national church (the Church of Scotland instead of the Church of England). In addition, separate departments grouped under a Secretary of State for Scotland, who also is a cabinet member, handled most domestic matters. In late 1997, however, following approval of referenda by Scottish and Welsh voters (though only narrowly in Wales), the British Government introduced legislation to establish a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. The first elections for the two bodies were held May 6, 1999. The Welsh Assembly opened on May 26, and the Scottish Parliament opened on July 1, 1999. The devolved legislatures have largely taken over most of the functions previously performed by the Scottish and Welsh offices.
Northern Ireland had its own Parliament and prime minister from 1921 to 1973, when the British Government imposed direct rule in order to deal with the deteriorating political and security situation. From 1973, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, based in London, was responsible for the region, including efforts to resolve the issues that lay behind the “the troubles.”
By the mid-1990s, gestures toward peace encouraged by successive British governments and by President Clinton began to open the door for restored local government in Northern Ireland. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) cease-fire and nearly 2 years of multiparty negotiations, led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, resulted in the Good Friday Agreement of April 10, 1998, which was subsequently approved by majorities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Key elements of the agreement include devolved government, a commitment of the parties to work toward “total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations,” police reform, and enhanced mechanisms to guarantee human rights and equal opportunity. The Good Friday Agreement also called for formal cooperation between the Northern Ireland institutions and the Government of the Republic of Ireland, and it established the British-Irish Council, which includes representatives of the British and Irish Governments as well as the devolved Governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Devolved government was reestablished in Northern Ireland in December 1999.
The Good Friday Agreement provides for a 108-member elected Assembly, overseen by a 12-minister Executive Committee (cabinet) in which unionists and nationalists share leadership responsibility. Northern Ireland elects 18 representatives to the Westminster Parliament in London. However, the five Sinn Fein Members of Parliament (MPs), who won seats in the 2004 election, have refused to claim their seats.
Progress has been made on each of the key elements of the Good Friday Agreement. Most notably, a new police force has been instituted; the IRA has decommissioned its weapons, and the security situation in Northern Ireland has normalized. Since 2002, when the last devolved government was suspended, the British Government, with Irish and U.S. support, continued to push Northern Ireland's main parties towards a power-sharing agreement. In October 2006, intense negotiations led to the St. Andrews Agreement, which set up a Transitional Assembly, as the precursor for the return of devolved government. Parties were given until March 26, 2007 to work out arrangements for a power-sharing agreement. As part of these negotiations, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) insisted that Sinn Fein endorse policing structures, a key U.S. objective as well.
In a historic move, Sinn Fein's general membership finally agreed to support policing in late January 2007. New assembly elections were held on March 7, returning the unionist (Protestant) DUP and nationalist (Catholic) Sinn Fein again as the two largest parties. While party leaders Ian Paisley (DUP) and Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein) did not reach agreement on power-sharing in time for the March 26 deadline, they did hold a historic joint meeting that day. At the meeting, they agreed to begin a power-sharing government on May 8 with Paisley as First Minister and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein as Deputy First Minister. On May 8, 2007 Paisley and McGuinness took their oath of office in the presence of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, and a bipartisan U.S. presidential delegation headed by Special Envoy Paula Dobriansky, who was accompanied by Senator Ted Kennedy.
While most attributes of government have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, responsibility for security and justice remains in the hands of the Parliament in Westminster. The St. Andrews Agreement envisioned devolution of policing and justice by May 2008. Other outstanding issues relate to continued paramilitary activities. While the IRA has completely decommissioned its weapons and is no longer considered a terrorist threat, a few loyalist (Protestant) paramilitary groups have thus far refused to stand down or decommission. While one large loyalist paramilitary group recently announced it has placed its weapons “out of use”, it has not formally decommissioned them. There is also some concern about dissident republican groups who are believed responsible for a number of fire bombs in November 2006 around Northern Ireland.
The United States also is committed to Northern Ireland's economic development, and through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) almost $462 million was obligated to the International Fund for Ireland from 1986 to 2006. The fund provides grants and loans to businesses to improve the economy, redress inequalities of employment opportunity, and improve cross-border business and community ties.
Principal Government Officials
Last Updated: 2/1/2008
Queen: ELIZABETH II
Prime Min., First Lord of the Treasury, & Minister for the Civil Service: Gordon BROWN
Chancellor of the Exchequer: Alistair DARLING
Sec. of State for Business, Enterprise, & Regulatory Reform: John HUTTON
Sec. of State for Children, Schools, & Families: Ed BALLS
Sec. of State for Communities & Local Govt.: Hazel BLEARS
Sec. of State for Culture, Media, & Sport: James PURNELL
Sec. of State for Defense: Desmond BROWNE
Sec. of State for the Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs: Hilary BENN
Sec. of State for Equalities: Harriet HARMAN
Sec. of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs: David MILIBAND
Sec. of State for Health: Alan JOHNSON
Sec. of State for the Home Dept.: Jacqui SMITH
Sec. of State for Innovation, Universities, & Skills: John DENHAM
Sec. of State for Intl. Development: Douglas ALEXANDER
Sec. of State for Justice: Jack STRAW
Sec. of State for Northern Ireland: Shaun WOODWARD
Sec. of State for Scotland: Desmond BROWNE
Sec. of State for Transport: Ruth KELLY
Sec. of State for Wales: Peter HAIN
Sec. of State for Work & Pensions: Peter HAIN
Lord Chancellor: Jack STRAW
Leader of the House of Lords: ASHTON, Baroness
Pres. of Council, Leader of the House of Commons, & Chmn. of the Labor Party: Harriet HARMAN
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster & Cabinet Office Minister: Ed MILIBAND
Chief Sec. to the Treasury: Andy BURNHAM
Chief Whip & Parliamentary Sec. to the Treasury: Geoff HOON
Governor, Bank of England: Mervyn KING
Ambassador to the US: Nigel Elton SHEINWALD, Sir
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: John SAWERS, Sir
The United Kingdom maintains an embassy in the United States at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-588-6500; fax 202-588-7870).
Tony Blair became the first Labour Prime Minister ever to win a third consecutive term when he was reelected on May 5, 2005. Labour has a 67-seat majority in the House of Commons. The Conservative (Tory) Party and Liberal-Democrats (LibDems) form the major opposition parties. Blair stepped down as Prime Minister in June 2007. Labour Party leader Gordon Brown succeeded him. The main British parties support a strong transatlantic link, but have become increasingly absorbed by European issues as Britain's economic and political ties to the continent grow in the post-Cold War world. Prime Minister Brown is expected to continue Blair's policy of having the United Kingdom play a leading role in Europe even as the United Kingdom maintains its strong bilateral relationship with the United States. Britain's relationship with Europe is a subject of considerable political discussion in the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom has the fifth-largest economy in the world, is the second-largest economy in the European Union, and is a major international trading power. A highly developed, diversified, market-based economy with extensive social welfare services provides most residents with a high standard of living. Unemployment and inflation levels are amongst the lowest within the European Union.
Since 1979, the British Government has privatized most state-owned companies, including British Steel, British Airways, British Telecom, British Coal, British Aerospace, and British Gas, although in some cases the government retains a “golden share” in these companies. The Labour government has continued the privatization policy of its Conservative predecessor, particularly by encouraging “public-private partnerships” (partial privatization) in such areas as the London Underground. The economy of the United Kingdom is now primarily based on private enterprise, accounting for approximately four-fifths of employment and output.
London ranks alongside New York as a leading international financial center. London's financial exports contribute greatly to the United Kingdom's balance of payments. Ratings agencies rank the United Kingdom's banking sector as one of the strongest in the world and its banks are amongst the most profitable in the G-8. It is a global leader in emissions trading and is home to the Alternative Investment Market (AIM). It is also a government priority to make London the leading center of Islamic finance.
The United Kingdom is the European Union's only significant energy exporter. It is also one of the world's largest energy consumers, and most analysts predict a shift in U.K. status from net exporter to net importer of energy by 2020, possibly sooner. Oil production in the U.K. is leveling off. While North Sea natural gas production continues to rise, gains may be offset by ever-increasing consumption. North Sea oil and gas exploration activities are shifting to smaller fields and to increments of larger, developed fields, presenting opportunities for smaller, independent energy operators to become active in North Sea production.
The United Kingdom is a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and is one of NATO's major European maritime, air, and land powers; it ranks third among NATO countries in total defense expenditure. The United Kingdom has been a member of the European Community (now European Union) since 1973. In the United Nations, the United Kingdom is a permanent member of the Security Council. The U.K. held the Presidency of the G-8 during 2005; it held the EU Presidency from July to December 2005. The British Armed Forces are charged with protecting the United Kingdom and its overseas territories, promoting Britain's wider security interests, and supporting international peacekeeping efforts. The 37,000-member Royal Navy, which includes 6,000 Royal Marine commandos, is in charge of the United Kingdom's independent strategic nuclear arm, which consists of four Trident missile submarines. The British Army, consisting of approximately 97,900 personnel, the Royal Air Force, with 42,000 personnel, along with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, are active and regular participants in NATO and other coalition operations. Approximately 9% of the British Armed Forces is female, and 4% of British forces represent ethnic minorities.
The United Kingdom stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., and its military forces are part of the coalition force in Afghanistan. The U.K. force in Afghanistan numbered 7,700 at the end of 2007. U.K. forces are primarily based in the Helmand region, where they are on the front line in the war against continued Taliban operations. In addition, the U.K. has contributed more than $500 million to Afghan reconstruction—the second-largest donor after the U.S. The U.K. was the United States’ main coalition partner in Operation Iraqi Freedom and continues to have more than 5,000 troops deployed in Iraq to help stabilize and rebuild the country. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1483, the U.K. also shared with the United States responsibility for civil administration in Iraq and was an active participant in the Coalition Provisional Authority before the handover of Iraqi sovereignty on June 28, 2004. Britain's participation in the Iraq war and its aftermath remains a domestically controversial issue.
The United Kingdom is one of the United States’ closest allies, and British foreign policy emphasizes close coordination with the United States. Bilateral cooperation reflects the common language, ideals, and democratic practices of the two nations. Relations were strengthened by the United Kingdom's alliance with the United States during both World Wars, and its role as a founding member of NATO, in the Korean conflict, in the Persian Gulf War, and in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The United Kingdom and the United States continually consult on foreign policy issues and global problems and share major foreign and security policy objectives.
The United Kingdom is the fifth-largest market for U.S. goods exports after Canada, Mexico, Japan, and China, and the sixth-largest supplier of U.S. imports after Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, and Germany. U.S. exports of goods and services to the United Kingdom in 2006 totaled $92 billion, while U.S. imports from the U.K. totaled $93 billion. The United States has had a trade deficit with the United Kingdom since 1998. The United Kingdom is a large source of foreign tourists in the United States. In 2005, 3.4 million U.S. residents visited the United Kingdom, while 4.2 million U.K. residents visited the United States.
The United States and the United Kingdom share the world's largest foreign direct investment partnership. U.S. investment in the United Kingdom reached $324 billion in 2005, while U.K. direct investment in the U.S. totaled $282 billion. This investment sustains more than 1 million American jobs.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Last Updated: 2/19/2008
LONDON (E) 24 Grosvenor Square, London, W1A 1AE United Kingdom, APO/FPO Unit 8400, FPO AE 09498-4040,  (20) 7499-9000, Fax +44-20-7629-9124 (ADMIN), INMARSAT Tel 881631438965 (Iridium), Work-week: 8:30 AM-5:30 PM, M-F, Web-site: http://london.usembassy.gov.
|DCM OMS:||Patricia Hart|
|AMB OMS:||COL Kelli Adams|
|FM:||Jerry D. Pifer|
|AMB:||Robert H. Tuttle|
|DAO:||RADM Ronald Henderson|
|IRS:||Kathy J. Beck (Res. In Paris)|
BELFAST (CG) Danesfort House, 223 Stranmillis Road, Belfast, NI BT95GR, APO/FPO AmConGen Bel-fast, Unit 8400 Box 0040, FPO AE 09498-0040, +44 (0) 28 9038 6100, Fax +44 (0) 28 9038 6150, Workweek: M-F, 8:30-17:00, Website: http://www.usembassy.org.uk/nireland/index.html.
|POL ECO:||Henry Bisharat|
|CG:||Susan M. Elliott|
EDINBURGH (CG) 3 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5BW, United Kingdom, APO/FPO PSC 801 Box E, FPOAE 09498, +44-131-556-8315, Fax +44-131-557-6023, Workweek: M-F 0830-1700, Website: http://www.usembassy.org.uk/scotland.
|PO:||Lisa A. Vickers|
Consular Information Sheet
December 12, 2007
Country Description: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a highly developed constitutional monarchy comprised of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland. Gibraltar is a United Kingdom Overseas Territory bordering Spain and located at the southernmost tip of Europe at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of thirteen former British colonies that have elected to continue their political links with London. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Entry Requirements: A visa is not required for tourist or business visits to the UK of less than six months in duration. Visitors wishing to remain longer than one month in Gibraltar should regularize their stay with Gibraltar immigration authorities. Those planning to visit the UK for any purpose other than tourism or business, or who intend to stay longer than six months, should consult the website of the British Embassy in the United States at http://britai-nusa.com for information about current visa requirements. Please note that new student visa requirements were introduced in September 2007. Those who are required to obtain a visa and fail to do so may be denied entry and returned to their port of origin. The U.S. Embassy cannot intervene in UK visa matters.
In addition to the British Embassy web site at http://britainusa.com, those seeking current UK visa information may also contact UK consular offices via their premium rate telephone service at 1-900-656-5000 (cost $3/minute) or 1-212-796-5773 ($12 flat fee). The service operates Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., U.S. Eastern Time, excluding public holidays. There is also a no-fee web site for visa information at www.visainfoservices.com.
Safety and Security: The United Kingdom is politically stable, with a modern infrastructure, but shares with the rest of the world an increased threat of terrorist incidents of international origin, as well as the potential, though significantly diminished in recent years, for isolated violence related to the political situation in Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kingdom).
On July 7, 2005, a major terrorist attack occurred in London, as Islamic extremists detonated explosives on three underground trains and a bus in Central London, resulting in over 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Following the attacks, the public transportation system was temporarily disrupted, but quickly returned to normal. A similar but unsuccessful attack against London's public transport system took place on July 21, 2005. UK authorities have identified and arrested people involved in these attacks. Similarly, those involved in terrorist incidents in London and Glasgow during the summer of 2007 were identified and arrested.
Like the US, the UK shares its national threat levels with the general public to keep everyone informed and explain the context for the various increased security measures that may be encountered. UK threat levels are determined by the UK Home Office and are posted on its web site at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/secu-rity/current-threat-level.
Information from the UK Security Service, commonly known as MI5, about the reasons for the increased threat level and actions the public can take is available on the MI5 web site at http://www.mi5.gov.uk.
On August 10, 2006, the Government of the United Kingdom heightened security at all UK airports following a major counterterrorism operation in which individuals were arrested for plotting attacks against U.S.-bound airlines. As a result of this, increased restrictions concerning carry-on luggage were put in place and are strictly enforced. American citizens are advised to check with the UK Department for Transport at http://www.dft.gov.uk regarding the latest security updates and carry-on luggage restrictions.
The British Home Secretary has urged UK citizens to be alert and vigilant by, for example, keeping an eye out for suspect packages or people acting suspiciously at subway (called the “Tube” or Underground) and train stations and airports and reporting anything suspicious to the appropriate authorities. Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution. For more information about UK public safety initiatives, consult the UK Civil Contingencies Secretariat web site at http://www.ukresilience.gov.uk.
The political situation in Northern Ireland has dramatically improved since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the announcement by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on July 28, 2005, that it would end its armed campaign, and the agreement to set up a power-sharing government on May 8, 2007. The potential remains, however, for sporadic incidents of street violence and/ or sectarian confrontation. Tensions may be heightened during the summer marching season (April to August), particularly during the month of July around the July 12th public holiday. American citizens traveling to Northern Ireland should therefore remain alert to their surroundings and should be aware that if they choose to visit potential flash-points or attend parades sporadic violence remains a possibility.
The phone number for police/fire/ ambulance emergency services—the equivalent of “911” in the U.S.—is “999” in the United Kingdom and “112” in Gibraltar. This number should also be used for warnings about possible bombs or other immediate threats. The UK Anti-Terrorist Hotline, at 0800 789 321, is for tip-offs and confidential information about possible terrorist activity.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution Travel Alert, can be found. Recent communications from U.S. Embassy London to the local American citizen community, called Warden Messages, can be found on the U.S. Embassy's American Citizens’ Services web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/cons_new/acs/index.html.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
Crime: The United Kingdom and Gibraltar benefit from generally low crime rates; however crime, including violent crime, has increased over the last few years, especially in London. Incidents include pickpocketing; mugging; “snatch and grab” thefts of mobile phones, watches and jewelry; and theft of unattended bags, especially at airports and from cars parked at restaurants, hotels and resorts.
Pickpockets target tourists, especially at historic sites, restaurants, on buses, trains and the London Underground (“Tube” or subway). Thieves often target unattended cars parked at tourist sites and roadside restaurants, looking for laptop computers and hand-held electronic equipment. Walking in isolated areas, including public parks, especially after dark, should also be avoided, as these provide advantageous venues for muggers and thieves. In London, travelers should use only licensed “black taxi cabs,” or car services recommended by their hotel or tour operator. Unlicensed taxis or private cars posing as taxis may offer low fares, but are often uninsured and may have unlicensed drivers. In some instances, travelers have been robbed and raped while using these cars. Travelers should not leave drinks unattended in bars and nightclubs. There have been some instances of drinks being spiked with illegal substances, leading to incidents of robbery and rape.
Due to the circumstances described above, visitors should take steps to ensure the safety of their U.S. passports. Visitors in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar are not expected to produce identity documents for police authorities and thus may secure their passports in hotel safes or residences. The need to carry a passport to cash traveler's checks is also minimized by an abundance of ATMs able to access systems widely used in the U.S. and offering more favorable rates of exchange. Travelers should be aware that U.S. banks might charge a higher processing fee for withdrawals made at an overseas ATM. Common sense personal security measures utilized in the U.S. when using ATMs should also be followed in the UK. ATM fraud in the UK is becoming more sophisticated, incorporating technologies to surreptitiously record customer ATM card and PIN information. Travelers should avoid using ATMs located in isolated areas. Travelers should be aware that in busy public areas, thieves use distraction techniques, such as waiting until the PIN number has been entered and then pointing to money on the ground, or attempting to hand out a free newspaper. When the ATM user is distracted, a colleague will quickly withdraw cash and leave. If distracted in any way, travelers should press the cancel transaction button immediately and collect their card before speaking to the person who has distracted them. If the person does not appear genuine, travelers should not challenge them but remember the details and report the matter to Police as soon as possible. In addition, travelers should not use the ATM if there is anything stuck to the machine or if it looks unusual in any way. If the machine does not return the card, it should be reported to the issuing bank immediately.
Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate at the opening of the next business day. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate only issues replacement passports during regular business hours. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, report it to local police. The nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate will also be able to assist by helping you to find appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
Medical Facilities and Health Information: While medical services are widely available, free care under the National Health System is allowed only to UK residents and certain EU nationals. Tourists and short-term visitors can expect charges that may be significantly higher than those assessed in the United States.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Hiking in higher elevations can be treacherous. Several people die each year while hiking, particularly in Scotland, often due to sudden changes in weather. Visitors, including experienced hikers, are encouraged to discuss intended routes with local residents familiar with the area, and to adhere closely to recommendations.
Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. The Department of State provides a list of travel insurance companies that can provide the additional insurance needed for the duration of one's trip abroad in its online at medical insurance overseas.
Remember also that most medical care facilities and medical care providers in the UK do not accept insurance subscription as a primary source of payment. Rather, the beneficiary is expected to pay for the service and then seek reimbursement from the insurance company. This may require an upfront payment in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: UK penalties for driving under the influence of even minimal amounts of alcohol or drugs are stiff and often result in prison sentences. In contrast to the United States and continental Europe, where traffic moves on the right hand side of the road, traffic moves on the left in the UK.
The maximum speed limit on high-ways/motorways in the UK is 70MPH. Motorways generally have a hard shoulder (breakdown lane) on the far left, defined by a solid white line. It is illegal to stop or park on a hard shoulder unless it is an emergency. In such cases, you should activate your hazard lights, get out of your vehicle and go onto an embankment for safety.
Emergency call boxes (orange telephone booths with “SOS” printed on them) may be found at half-mile intervals along the motorway. White and blue poles placed every 100 yards along the motorway point in the direction of the nearest call box. Emergency call boxes dial directly to a motorway center. It is best to use these phones rather than a personal cell phone, because motorway center personnel will immediately know the location of a call received from an emergency call box.
Roadside towing services may cost approximately £125. However, membership fees of automotive associations such as the RAC or AA (Automobile Association) often include free roadside towing service. Visitors uncomfortable with, or intimidated by, the prospect of driving on the left-hand side of the road may wish to avail themselves of extensive bus, rail and air transport networks that are comparatively inexpensive. Roads in the UK are generally excellent, but are narrow and often congested in urban areas. If you plan to drive while in the UK, you may wish to obtain a copy of the Highway Code, available at http://www.highwaycode.gov.uk.
Travelers intending to rent cars in the UK should make sure that they are adequately insured. U.S. auto insurance is not always valid outside the U.S., and travelers may wish to purchase supplemental insurance, which is generally available from most major rental agents. The city of London imposes a congestion charge of £8 (eight pounds sterling, or approximately U.S. $16.00) on all cars entering much of central London Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Information on the congestion charge can be found at http://www.cclondon.com.
Public transport in the United Kingdom is excellent and extensive. However, poor track conditions may have contributed to train derailments resulting in some fatalities. Repairs are underway and the overall safety record is excellent. Information on disruptions to London transportation services can be found at http://www.tfl.gov.uk and information about the status of National Rail Services can be found at http://www.national-rail.co.uk. Many U.S. citizens are injured and some are killed every year in pedestrian accidents in the United Kingdom, forgetting that traffic moves in the opposite direction than in the United States. Extra care and alertness should be taken when crossing streets.
Driving in Gibraltar is on the right-hand side of the road, as in the U.S. and Continental Europe. Persons traveling overland between Gibraltar and Spain may experience long delays in clearing Spanish border controls.
For specific information concerning United Kingdom driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, refer to the United Kingdom's Department of Environment and Transport web site at www.dft.gov.uk, the Driving Standards Agency web site at http://www.dsa.gov.uk or consult the U.S. Embassy in London's web site at http://london.usembassy.gov.
Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration FAA) has assessed the Government f the United Kingdom’ Civil Aviaion Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety tandards for oversight of the UK's air carrier operations. For further nformation, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov.
Special Circumstances: The legal drinking age in the UK is generally lower than in the U.S. and social drinking in the wide range of pubs is often seen as a routine aspect of life in Britain. Parents, organizers of school trips and young travelers should be aware of the impact that this environment may have when combined with the sense of adventure that comes with being on vacation.
The UK has strict gun-control laws, and importing firearms is extremely complicated. Travelers should consider leaving all firearms in the U.S. Restrictions exist on the type and number of weapons that may be possessed by an individual. All hand-guns, i.e. pistols and revolvers, are prohibited with very few exceptions. Licensing of firearms in the UK is controlled by the Police. Applicants for a license must be prepared to show ‘good reason’ why they require each weapon. Applicants must also provide a copy of their U.S. gun license, a letter of good conduct from their local U.S. police station and a letter detailing any previous training, hunting or shooting experience. Background checks will also be carried out. Additional information on applying for a firearm certificate and/ or shotgun certificate can be found on the Metropolitan Police Firearms Enquiry Teams web site at http://www.met.police.uk/firearms-enquiries/index.htm. A number of Americans are lured to the UK each year in the belief that they have won a lottery or have inherited from the estate from a long-lost relative. Americans may also be contacted by persons they have “met” over the Internet who now need funds urgently to pay for hospital treatment, hotel bills, taxes or airline security fees. Invariably, the person contacted is the victim of fraud. Any unsolicited invitations to travel to the UK to collect winnings or an inheritance should be viewed with skepticism. Also, there are no licenses or fees required when transiting a UK airport, nor is emergency medical treatment withheld pending payment of fees.
Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating British law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the UK are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Many pocketknives and other blades, and mace or pepper spray canisters, although legal in the U.S., are illegal in the UK and will result in arrest and confiscation if detected. A UK Metropolitan Police guide to items that are prohibited as offensive weapons is available at www.met.police.uk/youngpeople/guns.htm. A UK Customs Guide, detailing what items visitors are prohibited from bringing into the UK, is available at http://customs.hmrc.gov.uk.
Air travelers to and from the United Kingdom should be aware that penalties against alcohol-related and other in-flight crimes (“air rage”) are stiff and are being enforced with prison sentences.
Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family.
Registration And Embassy And Consulate Locations: Americans living or traveling in the United Kingdom are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the United Kingdom. By registering, Americans make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency, and to relay updated information on travel and security within the United Kingdom. The Embassy and Consulates regularly send security and other information via email to Americans who have registered. As noted above, recent communications from U.S. Embassy London to the local American citizen community, called Warden Messages, can be found on the embassy's web site. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The Consular Section also disseminates a newsletter every month. Those wishing to subscribe to the monthly consular newsletter in London should send a request by email to [email protected]
The U.S. Embassy is located at 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE; telephone: in country 020-7499-9000; from the U.S. 011-44-20-7499-9000 (24 hours); Consular Section fax: in country 020-7495-5012; from the U.S. 011-44-20-7495-5012, and on the Internet at http://london.usembassy.gov.
The U.S. Consulate General in Edinburgh, Scotland, is located at 3 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5BW; Telephone: in country 0131-556-8315, from the U.S. 011-44-131-556-8315. After hours: in country 01224-857097, from the U.S. 011-44-1224-857097. Fax: in country 0131-557-6023; from the U.S. 011-44-131-557-6023. Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy's web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/scotland.
The U.S. Consulate General in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is located at Danesfort House, 228 Stranmillis Road, Belfast BT9 5GR; Telephone: in country 028-9038-6100; from the U.S. 011-44-28-9038-6100. Fax: in country 028-9068-1301; from the U.S. 011-44-28-9068-1301. Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy's web site at: http://london.usembassy.gov/nireland.
There is no U.S. consular representation in Gibraltar. Passport questions should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, located at Serrano 75, Madrid, Spain; telephone (34)(91) 587-2200, and fax (34)(91) 587-2303. The web site is http://madrid.usembassy.gov. All other inquiries should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in London.
The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.
Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.
Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.
Adoption Authority: The Department for Education and Skills is responsible for children's social services, including adoption policy. While the following address is the Central Authority for the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, each adoption case will be handled by the relevant social services department in the area where the adoptive child is located. Anyone who wishes to contact the Department of Education & Skills's Adoption Team should write to the following:
Looked After Children Division
Or e-mail: [email protected]
Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: Anyone over 21, whether married or single, can legally adopt a child. The United Kingdom does not have a statutory upper age limit. However, each local authority has the power to determine if a prospective adoptive parent is above its acceptable age limit on a case-by-case basis. Married couples must adopt jointly unless one partner cannot be found, is incapable of making an application, or if a separation is likely to be permanent. Unmarried couples may not adopt jointly although one partner in that couple may adopt as a single parent.
Residency Requirements: Residency requirements are set by the local Social Services Department on a case-by-case basis.
Time Frame: In view of the above, there is no standard time frame.
Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: Within the UK all local councils have a statutory responsibility to provide an adoption service. In addition to the local council, there are a number of voluntary adoption agencies who also provide an adoption service.
Adoption Fees: There are no specific costs set by the British government.
Adoption Procedures: Please see the Department for Education and Skills website (http://www.dfes.gov.uk/adoption) for detailed information on preparing of an intercountry adoption from third countries. The adoption of such children will be governed by the child's country of origin.
Required Documents: In general, adoptive parents must provide the following:
- A detailed home study completed by an approved adoption agency;
- Medical clearance;
- Full police background check.
For more information, please see http://www.dfes.gov.uk/adoption.
The British Embassy
3100 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Ph: (202) 588-7800
The United Kingdom has Consulates-General in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, San Francisco and Seattle.
U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adopting parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.
55/56 Upper Brook Street
London W1A 2LQ
The United States also has Consulates General in Belfast (Northern Ireland) and Edinburgh (Scotland). These are located at:
U.S. Consulate General, Belfast, Northern Ireland
223 Stranmillis Road
Belfast BT9 5GR
Tel:  (0)28 9038 6100
Fax:  (0)28 9068 1301
Consulate General, Edinburgh, Scotland
3 Regent Terrace
Scotland, EH7 5BW
Tel:  (0)131 556-8315
Fax:  (0)131 557-6023
Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in the United Kingdom may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in the London. General questions regarding inter-country adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.
International Parental Child Abduction
The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Parental Child Abduction section of this book and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.
Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is provided for general information only. Questions involving interpretation of specific foreign laws should be addressed to foreign legal counsel.
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction came into force between the United States and the United Kingdom on July 1, 1988. Therefore, Hague Convention provisions for return would apply to children abducted or retained after July 1, 1988. Parents and legal guardians of children taken to the United Kingdom prior to July 1, 1988, may still submit applications for access to the child under the Hague Convention in some cases.
The United Kingdom has three Central Authorities: England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
The Central Authority for England and Wales
The Child Abduction Unit
Official Solicitors Department
81 Chancery Lane—Fourth floor
London WC2A 1DD England United
Telephone: 011  (171) 911-7047 or
Fax: 011  (171) 911-7248
The Central Authority for Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Court Service
9-15 Belford Street
Belfast BT2 7LT Northern Ireland
Telephone: 011  (232) 328-594
Fax: 011  (232) 439-110
The Central Authority for Scotland
Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland
Scottish Courts Administration
23 Lauriston Street
Edinburgh EH3 9DQ Scotland
Telephone: 011  (131) 229-9200
Fax: 011  (131) 221-6894
For further information on international parental child abduction, contact the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State at 1-888-407-4747 or visit its web site on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov/family. You may also direct inquiries to: Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC 20520-4811; Phone: (202) 736-9090; Fax: (202) 312-9743.
"United Kingdom." Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2009. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/legal-and-political-magazines/united-kingdom-3
"United Kingdom." Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2009. . Retrieved January 21, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/legal-and-political-magazines/united-kingdom-3