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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack, is the flag of the United Kingdom. It retains an official or semi-official status in some Commonwealth Realms; for example, it is known as the Royal Union Flag in Canada. It is also used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas territories. The current design dates from the Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.

The Union Flag is normally twice as long as it is wide, a ratio of 1:2.

The three component crosses that make up the Union Flag are sized as follows:

  • The red St. George's Cross (England);

  • The white diagonal St. Andrew's Cross (Scotland);

  • The red diagonal St. Patrick's Cross (Ireland).

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK or Britain) is a sovereign state located off the north-western coast of continental Europe. The country includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another sovereign state—the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea.

The United Kingdom is a unitary state governed under a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system, with its seat of government in the capital city of London. It is a country in its own right and consists of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There are three devolved national administrations, each with varying powers, situated in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh; the capitals of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively. Associated with the UK, but not constitutionally part of it, are three Crown Dependencies and fourteen overseas territories. These are remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in 1922, encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land surface and was the largest empire in history. British influence can still be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former territories.

The UK is a developed country and has the world's sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and seventh-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. The UK remains a great power with leading economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence. It is a recognised nuclear weapons state and its military expenditure ranks third or fourth in the world. The UK has been a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since its first session in 1946; it is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Union, the G7, the G8, the G20, NATO, the OECD and the World Trade Organization.

Etymology and terminology

The name "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" was introduced in 1927 by the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act to reflect the granting of independence to the Irish Free State in 1922, which left Northern Ireland as the only part of the island of Ireland still within the UK. Prior to this, the Acts of Union 1800, that led to the uniting the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, had given the new state the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Great Britain before 1801 is occasionally referred to as the "United Kingdom of Great Britain". However, Section 1 of both of the 1707 Acts of Union declare that England and Scotland are "United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain". The term united kingdom is found in informal use during the 18th century to describe the new state but only became official with the union with Ireland in 1801.

Although the United Kingdom, as a sovereign state, is a country, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also referred to as countries, whether or not they are sovereign states or have devolved or other self-government. The British Prime Minister's website has used the phrase "countries within a country" to describe the United Kingdom. With regard to Northern Ireland, the descriptive name used "can be controversial, with the choice often revealing one's political preferences." Other terms used for Northern Ireland include "region" and "province".

The United Kingdom is often referred to as Britain. British government sources frequently use the term as a short form for the United Kingdom, whilst media style guides generally allow its use but point out that the longer term Great Britain refers only to England, Scotland and Wales. However, some foreign usage, particularly in the United States, uses Great Britain as a loose synonym for the United Kingdom. Also, the United Kingdom's Olympic team competes under the name "Great Britain" or "Team GB". GB and GBR are the standard country codes for the United Kingdom and are consequently commonly used by international organisations to refer to the United Kingdom.

The adjective British is commonly used to refer to matters relating to the United Kingdom. Although the term has no definite legal connotation, it is used in legislation to refer to United Kingdom citizenship. However, British people use a number of different terms to describe their national identity. Some may identify themselves as British only, or British and English, Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish. Others may identify themselves as only English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish and not British. In Northern Ireland, some describe themselves as only Irish.

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