When you talk about the UK, what are you really talking about? To a lot of people the ‘UK’ refers to England in the same way that the US refers to America, but of course such a simplistic answer is wrong and will upset a lot of people if you say this to the wrong group. There are those then that realise the UK is a group of countries, but even then there is often confusion regarding the precise countries included in this group – is it the same as Great Britain? And if not, then what’s the difference?
You shouldn’t feel sheepish if you don’t understand (I resisted a pun about Wales here…) – as actually a lot of people who live in the UK struggle with these specifics too. But fear not, for it’s actually (relatively) quite simple and we’re going to go over all of it here. If you struggle with the definitions of England, the UK and Britain then you should read on. If you also happen to live in the UK then you should definitely read on.
The United Kingdom
To begin with, the United Kingdom is the term that describes the largest portion of the British Isles and to be specific that means: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. On a map this means you get the whole of the large island and the top portion of the island to the left. This is the term that encompasses most of the region, but political and religious disagreements lead to the bottom half of Ireland – the Republic of Ireland being a separate entity.
Despite the fact that Scotland, Wales and some of Ireland are part of the UK however it’s important to note that they are separate sovereign nations. That is that they have their own independent governments – and interestingly are able to vote on laws affecting England while the reverse is not true. Nevertheless there are tensions between the countries, with the countries outside of England often looking at England as tyrants of some sort.
The UK then is a political entity as evidenced by the separation of the Republic of Ireland. Britain on the other hand is a geographical location – and specifically that means it’s the big island on the right that looks sort of like a seahorse. This means that England, Scotland and Wales are part of Britain but none of Ireland. This is not a deliberate exclusion – it simply states that Ireland is a separate island. Similarly the smaller islands surrounding Britain such as the Isle of White or Isle of Man do not count as part of ‘Britain’.
Ireland is also a geographical location meaning the only thing that could change the definition would be a huge earthquake separating the land (which would be politically convenient). Ireland of course is constitutes Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and along with Britain is a ‘British Isle’.