Great Britain Today
Great Britain is a constitutional monarchy. The British constitution is not a single document. It consists partly of statutes (laws passed by Parliament) and of documents such as the Magna Carta (a charter passed in 1215 to limit the monarch’s power). It also includes common law (laws based on custom and supported in the courts). Much of the Constitution is not even written. These unwritten parts include many important ideas and practices that have developed over the years.
Queen Elizabeth II is Britain’s head of state. Her powers are largely ceremonial, however, and a Cabinet of ministers actually rules the country. The Cabinet is responsible to Parliament, which makes the laws of GB.
The Parliament consists of the monarch, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords. The queen must approve all bills passed by Parliament before they become laws, but no monarch has rejected a bill since the early 1700’s.
The prime minister, who is usually the leader of the political party with the most seats in the House of Commons, serves as the head of government. The monarch appoints the prime minister after each general election. The prime minister selects about 100 ministers to head governmental offices and chooses the Cabinet.
GB is a densely populated country, and about 93 per cent of the people live in urban areas. English is the official language, but some people in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland speak their national language.
Most of the British are descendants of the many early people who invaded GB, including the Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Scandinavians, and Normans. However, since the late 1950’s, many immigrants from Commonwealth countries have settled in GB. Their arrival has created housing and racial problems in the country’s crowded urban areas.
There are many divisions in British life. Scotland and England have their national churches, and there are separate legal and educational systems in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. For centuries, the British people were also separated by a rigid class system. Most of these class barriers were greatly reduced during World War II.