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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK, or Britain, is a sovereign island country located off the northwestern coast of mainland Europe consisting of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales - the four constituent countries. It includes the island of Great Britain, the northeast part of the island of Ireland and many small islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land border, sharing it with 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 largest island, Great Britain, is linked to France by the Channel Tunnel.
The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy with its seat of government in London, the capital. It is a constitutional monarchy with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II the head of state. The Crown Dependencies of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, formally possessions of the Crown, are not part of the UK but form a federacy with it. The UK has fourteen overseas territories, all remnants of the British Empire, which at its height encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land surface, making it the largest empire in history. As a direct result of the empire, British influence can be observed in the language and culture of states such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, and the United States of America, and other less globally influential independent states. HM Queen Elizabeth II remains the head of the Commonwealth of Nations and head of state of the Commonwealth realms. The UK is a developed country, with the fifth (nominal GDP) or sixth (PPP) largest economy in the world.
The UK was the world's foremost power during the 19th and early 20th century, but the economic 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 retains strong economic, cultural, military and political influence and is a nuclear power, with the second or third (depending on method of calculation) highest defence spending in the world. It holds a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, and is a member of the G8, NATO, the European Union and the Commonwealth of Nations.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland comprises the island of Great Britain (most of England, Scotland and Wales) and the northeastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland (Northern Ireland), together with smaller islands. The mainland lies between latitudes 49° and 59° N (the Shetland Islands reach to nearly 61° N), and longitudes 8° W to 2° E. The Royal Greenwich Observatory, near London, is the defining point of the Prime Meridian. The UK lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, and comes within 35 kilometres (22 mi) of the northwest coast of France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. Northern Ireland shares a 360-kilometre (224 mi) land boundary with Ireland. The Channel Tunnel ("Chunnel") now links the UK with France beneath the English Channel. The greatest distance between two points on the UK mainland of Great Britain is 1,350 kilometres (840 mi) between Land's End in Cornwall (near Penzance) and John O'Groats in Caithness (near Thurso), a two day journey by car. When measured directly north-south it is a little over 1,100 kilometres (700 mi) in length and is a fraction under 500 kilometres (300 mi) at its widest. The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 245,000 square kilometres (94,600 sq mi).
The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. The temperature varies with the seasons but seldom drops below ?10 °C (14.0 °F) or rises above 35 °C (95 °F). The prevailing wind is from the southwest, bearing frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean. Eastern parts are most sheltered from this wind and are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters, especially in the west, where winters are wet, especially over high ground. Summers are warmest in the south east of England, being closest to the European mainland, and coolest in the north. Snowfall can occur in winter and early spring, though it rarely settles to great depth away from high ground.
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