Welcome to Britlink
Welcome to Britlink, a site about the United Kingdom and the British. In the wake of the Scottish referendum and a decisive no vote, the Union has survived, it still remains important to many of us.
If the United Kingdom is to survive, then it must adapt and change to meet the changing demands and aspirations of its nations and people, something that is long overdue.
It is not just about greater powers to Scotland, it is about more powers to all the nations in the union, a fair deal and inclusion for all.
In the run up to the referendum, I questioned my own identity and the importance of the United Kingdom to myself and to others.
How do I define my own identity, well I consider myself English and British, I asked myself the question ‘Is there a difference?’
For me the answer has to be yes, that said, I have no problem with my two joint identities. They coexist quite happily, as it does for millions of other British people, whether they are from the Shetlands or the Falklands. We are different, though we have far more in common with one another.
On top of my English/British identity, there is Irish and Maltese ancestry, so mixed, yet so British, something I consider very British.
There is more to the British than just the United Kingdom, there are British subjects in the Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories, they share this common identity with those in the United Kingdom, there must also be a reason they choose retain their links to the UK.
The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a sovereign state 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:
- Northern Ireland
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 highly 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 although 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 and 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 is also a member of: the Commonwealth of Nations, G8, G20, NATO, the OECD, the Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization.
The Crown dependencies are self-governing possessions of the Crown (defined uniquely in each jurisdiction). They are not overseas territories of the United Kingdom and not considered Commonwealth Realms.
As of 2014, three jurisdictions held this status: the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey in the English Channel and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.
Being independently administered jurisdictions, they are not part of the United Kingdom. They are also not part of the Commonwealth of Nations, or the European Union.
However, they do have a relationship with the Commonwealth, EU, and other international organisations and are members of the British–Irish Council.
Although the Crown dependencies are self-governing possessions of the Crown, and are not sovereign states in their own right, the power to pass legislation affecting the islands ultimately rests with their own respective legislative assemblies, with the assent of the Crown (Privy Council, or in the case of the Isle of Man in certain circumstances the Lieutenant-Governor).
In 2005, Jersey followed the Isle of Man and Guernsey in creating the role of Chief Minister to serve as the island’s head of government. Internationally, however, the dependencies are recognised as “territories for which the United Kingdom is responsible”.
“The Crown” is defined differently in each Crown dependency:
- In Jersey, statements in the 21st century of the constitutional position by the Law Officers of the Crown define it as the “Crown in right of Jersey”, with all Crown land in the Bailiwick of Jersey belonging to the Crown in right of Jersey and not to the Crown Estate of the United Kingdom.
- Legislation of the Isle of Man defines the “Crown in right of the Isle of Man” as being separate from the “Crown in right of the United Kingdom”.
- In Guernsey, legislation refers to the “Crown in right of the Bailiwick”, and the Law Officers of the Crown of Guernsey submitted that “The Crown in this context ordinarily means the Crown in right of the république of the Bailiwick of Guernsey” and that this comprises “the collective governmental and civic institutions, established by and under the authority of the Monarch, for the governance of these Islands, including the States of Guernsey and legislatures in the other Islands, the Royal Court and other courts, the Lieutenant Governor, Parish authorities, and the Crown acting in and through the Privy Council.”
This constitutional concept is also worded as the “Crown in right of the Bailiwick of Guernsey”.
British Overseas Territories
The fourteen British Overseas Territories are territories under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United Kingdom. They do not, however, form part of it. Instead, they are those parts of the former British Empire that have not acquired independence, or, unlike the Commonwealth realms, have voted to remain British territories.
While each has its own internal leadership, most being self-governing, they share the British monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) as head of state.
The name “British Overseas Territory” was introduced by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, replacing the name British Dependent Territory introduced by the British Nationality Act 1981. Prior to 1 January 1983, the territories were officially referred to as Crown colonies.
With the exceptions of the British Antarctic Territory and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (which host only officials and research station staff) and the British Indian Ocean Territory (used as a military base), the Territories retain permanent civilian populations. Permanent residency for the 7,000 or so civilians living in the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia is limited to citizens of the Republic of Cyprus.
Collectively, the Territories encompass a population of approximately 350,000 people and a land area of approximately 667,018 square miles (1,727,570 km2). The vast majority of this, 660,000 square miles (1,700,000 km2), constitutes the British Antarctic Territory.
The United Kingdom participates in the Antarctic Treaty System and, as part of a mutual agreement, the British Antarctic Territory is recognised by four of the other sovereign nations making claims to Antarctic territory.
The British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom.
It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1922 the British Empire held sway over about 458 million people, one-fifth of the world’s population at the time, and covered more than 33,700,000 km2 (13,012,000 sq mi), almost a quarter of the Earth’s total land area.
As a result, its political, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, it was often said that “the sun never sets on the British Empire” because its span across the globe ensured that the sun was always shining on at least one of its numerous territories.
During the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal and Spain pioneered European exploration of the globe, and in the process established large overseas empires.
Envious of the great wealth these empires bestowed, England, France and the Netherlands began to establish colonies and trade networks of their own in the Americas and Asia. A series of wars in the 17th and 18th centuries with the Netherlands and France left England (Britain, following the 1707 Act of Union with Scotland) the dominant colonial power in North America and India.
The loss of the Thirteen Colonies in North America in 1783 after a war of independence deprived Britain of some of its oldest and most populous colonies. British attention soon turned towards Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Following the defeat of Napoleonic France in 1815, Britain enjoyed a century of almost unchallenged dominance, and expanded its imperial holdings across the globe. Increasing degrees of autonomy were granted to its white settler colonies, some of which were reclassified as dominions.
See: The British Empire