It’s all the same isn’t it?
I hear the incorrect usage of these terms so often I have given up trying to correct them one by one. Instead I’m following up my article on Why I’m Against Leaving The EU with this hopefully simple explanation and a few helpful illustrations.
Basically, no they aren’t the same thing, not even close, so let me start from the top and one by one explain the different components that make up Great Britain and the United Kingdom.
The British Isles
The British Isles is a group of over 6000 islands off the coast of the European continent which are dominated by two large islands, Ireland and Britain. Please note the British Isles is a geographic reference and includes the Channel Islands even though they do not form part of the main archipelago. It is separated from the European mainland by the English Channel and North Sea and to the west is the Atlantic ocean. About 135 of the islands are permanently inhabited including the Hebrides and Shetland to the north, Anglesey and the Isle of Man.
The government of Ireland does not recognise the commonly used name because it contains the word British and prefers the term Atlantic Archipelago.
Great Britain and Britain
Both of these names are purely geographic references and have no bearing on states, countries, counties, politics etc. Britain is the largest island in Europe at 80,000 square miles and with a population of about 61 million people. As you can see on the left it does not include any of the smaller islands around its coast or the island of Ireland.
On the right is the map of the Great Britain and all of its counties. It is made up of the large island called Britain and all the other smaller islands around its coast, including Anglesey, the Isle of Man, Shetland and the Orkneys. But has nothing to do with the island of Ireland.
The United Kingdom
At this point we are no longer talking in geographic terms and the flag to the right is not the British flag, it is the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland otherwise known as the Union Flag. If it is flown on the “Jackstaff” on the bow of a naval vessel while the ensign is flown on the rear it is called the Union Jack. Although most people in the UK neither know or care and call it the Union Jack anyway. It just shows how deeply rooted we are in our Naval past.
The United Kingdom (UK) is a sovereign state on the continent of Europe, it includes the islands that make up Great Britain and Northern Ireland which is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another state. In the illustration on the right the UK is denoted by the Union Flag and the Republic of Ireland makes up the rest of the island of Ireland. The UK has a land area of 94,000 square miles and is the 80th largest sovereign state in the world and the 21st most populous country at an estimated 64.5 million inhabitants.
The UK is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary governance system with its capital London being the fourth largest in Europe at over 10 million people.
Formed by the mergers of four host countries between 1536 and 1922. Wales was annexed by the Kingdom of England in 1536 although it was conquered by English King Edward I in 1282 and this is why no Welsh flag components appear in the Union flag. In 1707 a unified Kingdom of Great Britain was formed by treaty between the Kingdom of England and Scotland. In 1801 the Kingdom of Ireland merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain and finally 1922 five-sixths of Ireland seceded from the country, leaving the present formulation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland depicted in the map above.
The UK has the worlds fifth largest economy by GDP and ninth largest by purchasing power parity and is considered to have a high income economy. It was the worlds first industrialised country and the worlds most powerful in the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the founder nations of the UN Security Council in 1946 and a member state of the European Union (EU). It is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Council of Europe, the G7 forum, G20, NATO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The Principalities & Provinces of the UK
Now the really controversial part, the Country is the Sovereign State the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We may all still think of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as separate countries but strictly speaking they aren’t, Wales and Scotland are in fact a principalities that is to say governed by a Prince of the Crown and with London in England being the seat of the Crown and parliament. Northern Ireland is a province. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have some devolved governance through their own Parliaments but are ultimately governed by Crown and Parliament in London and therefore cannot be classified as countries, however this would have changed for Scotland if they had voted to become independent.
So to be really clear, England is not the same as the UK, Britain, or Great Britain. They are not interchangeable terms and in the UK people tend to get upset, especially if you are referring to Wales or Scotland with any of the aforementioned terms. The principalities and province’s are as culturally independent as a any country in its own right and some care needs to be taken to avoid offence. Each is passionately considered by its population to be a country and should politically be treated as such.
UK Overseas Territories
And Finally. The UK also has 14 overseas territories, remnants of the colonial British Empire which are territories under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United Kingdom. They have elected after the breakup of the British Empire to remain with the Crown in preference to independence. Most are self governed but all have the UK Monarch as their head of state.
The fourteen British Overseas Territories are: Anguilla; Bermuda; the British Antarctic Territory; the British Indian Ocean Territory; the British Virgin Islands; the Cayman Islands; the Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; the Turks and Caicos Islands; the Pitcairn Islands; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; and Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus.
These overseas territories do not include Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man which are also under the sovereignty of the UK Crown but are known as Crown Dependencies and have a different constitutional relationship with the UK.