About United Kingdom
The United Kingdom (UK) as we know it today began in 1707, with the political union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland. Wales also became a part of that union, and Northern Ireland became part of the UK after Ireland got its independence from British rule in 1922. England’s union with Scotland was remarkable, considering the latter’s longstanding efforts to resist English rule. Since at least the 13th century, Scotland has battled to assert its independence from its southern neighbor (England), with varying success. This included the rise of Robert the Bruce – who became Scotland’s King Robert I in the early 1300s, and the later arrival of the Stewarts (who ruled over Scotland through much of the Middle Ages). Curiously, Scotland allied with France during the 15th century in order to maintain its independence from England (such ties with the French highlighted by Mary, Queen of Scots – who was a one-time queen of France).
With the existence of the UK, the British crown focused on building its empire overseas. By the time the UK was formed in 1707, Britain already has colonies in North America (USA and Canada) and the West Indies. However, the success of the American Revolution undermined the British Empire in the late 1700s. Still, in the 19th century, Britain revived its global ambitions by rebuilding its empire – this time based on British naval power, and expanding its international holdings from India to newly-formed colonies in Africa and other parts of the world like Asia and the Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand.
The post-war period of the 1960s was accompanied by Britain letting go of its overseas colonies. With Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa already being independent from the UK by the 1960s, Britain was also letting go of its remaining colonies in Africa and elsewhere, such as Nigeria (1960), Tanzania (1961) and Kenya (1963), while Rhodesia declared itself independent of the UK in 1965. Meanwhile, the West Indies were not immune to this trend. Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago both became independent from Britain in 1962. This post-colonial trend accompanied another: immigration of subjects from many of these countries into the UK, diversifying the country’s population in the process.
With Britain’s decline as an empire, there were concerns over its economic future, resulting in it joining the European Union (EU) in 1973 (under terms which let the country retain its currency, the Pound). Over the years, though, a variety of concerns over the European Union – from its bureaucracy over British trade, to the migrant crisis of 2015 that strained the “open borders” policy among EU members, prompted the “Brexit” campaign throughout Britain. Brexit — the UK leaving the EU (and its regulations, including immigration policy), was narrowly voted for by the British electorate in 2016, with a timetable and terms of Britain’s withdrawal from it still being worked out.
Regardless of Britain’s economic future, those visiting the country for the first time are reminded of the UK’s relevance in the world stage: its language and culture. The international popularity over British music – be it from the 1960s (which saw the rise of bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Who), 1970s rockers like Elton John and Queen, the New Wave period of the 1980s (with acts like Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, New Order, among others), or the more recent craze over EDM (electronic dance music) – driven in part by British DJs like Pete Tong, Paul Oakenfold, and John Digweed (among others), were a reminder of the cultural influence that Britain exerts worldwide – to this day.
In addition, Britain has become over the years “Hollywood East” – with many internationally-acclaimed films being made there: from the “Harry Potter” film series to the James Bond spy thrillers, along with the “Star Wars” series, and “Pirates of the Caribbean”, among others. Many of Hollywood’s most successful actors hail from various parts of Britain – from English natives like Kate Winslet, Ben Kingsley, Naomi Watts, Daniel Day Lewis, Helen Mirren, and Ian McKellen; to Scotsmen Sean Connery, James McAvoy, Alan Cumming and Robert Carlyle; Welsh actors Christian Bale, Richard Burton, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Jonathan Pryce; and Northern Ireland natives Liam Neeson, Kenneth Branagh, and Jamie Dornan.
These and other cultural influences (including interest in British football teams like Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea) help drive international travel to the UK. In 2018, 37.9 million foreigners visited the UK (spending £22.9 billion). According to accounting firm Deloitte, Britain will have a tourism industry worth over £257 billion by 2025 (just under 10% of UK’s GDP and supporting nearly 3.8 million jobs – which would be 11% of the total UK number).