Britain, or formally The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a.k.a. the United Kingdom, a.k.a. the UK is the core Western Euorpean power left over from de-colonization in the 1960s. Located between continental Europe and insular Ireland, Britain consists of Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales), plus Northern Ireland. Five other substantially autonomous regions associated with but not constitutionally part of the UK are the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark) and Isle of Man. Other overseas territories — remnants of the British Empire — such as Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, Diego Garcia, etc; are possessions of the UK but not part of it. Modern British people accept that rule should be with the consent of the governed. As far as this author knows all current British colonies are places where the majority of inhabitants want to stay British, although those of Diego Garcia would find it difficult to vote on this matter, having been forcibly removed and replaced by a US base.
The United Kingdom is a full member of the European Community but the four Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are outside the European Community. The UK has an allocation of78 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) out of a total of 732 MEPs from all of the European Union.
The UK still retains its own currency, the Pound Sterling not having joined the European Common currency (the Euro). The Bailwick of Jersey, The Bailwick of Guernsey (which includes Alderney and Sark) and the Isle of Man each have their own currency each maintained at par with Sterling.
The United Kingdom's government is a constitutional hereditary monarchy with a strong parliament, largely elected democratically. Elections in the UK are under the oversight of the Electoral Commission for the UK an independent statutory body.
The UK has no written constitution, however. Parliament is historically only limited in its power through strong traditions, although UK citizens can seek remediation in certain European Courts. This situation is evolving, especially since the UK incorporated the European Declaration of Human Rights into UK domestic law and devolved powers to the Scottish Parliament and to the Welsh Assembly.
The head of state is currently Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen approves all legislation passed by Parliament in a now ceremonial event known as the Royal Assent. (The Queen also has status in certain other countries formerly part of the British Empire, such as Canada and Australia. She is also the titular head of the Church of England, (a Christian denomination which is the nation's official state religion. This is largly in name only though tax payers' money helps finance the Church of England while other denominations and religions do not get public support in the same way. and Church of England Bishops sit in the House of Lords) Prince Charles is next in line to the throne.
The UK Parliament (also known as the "Westminster Parliament") consists of two parts: the House of Commons (the "lower" house) and the House of Lords. The Commons is where all the main legislative activity occurs. All its members (MPs) are elected from districts known as Constituencies (drawn to include roughly equal populations). The Prime Minister is also a Member of Parliament sitting for one of the constituencies. The House of Lords can only block legislation, and then only temporarily. However, The Lords often can influence legislation even with this limited power, especially through public hearings and investigations. Members of the House of Lords are largely appointed nowadays, although some hereditary peers remain .
The current Prime Minister is Gordon Brown, leader of the Labour Party. Tony Blair was his predecessor. Other major political parties, at present in the minority, include the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. There are also MPs from the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) the Welsh Nationalist Party Plaid Cymru and from Northern Irish political parties (Ulster Unionist Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party SDLP and Sinn Fein) .
The Westminster Parliament devolves considerable responsibilities to a Scottish Parliament and to a Welsh Assembly (in Welsh the Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru). There is a Northern Irish Assembly currently suspended through inability of local political groups to agree on co-operation .
Due to the far reach and influence of the British Empire over centuries of history, the United Kingdom has had a profound and lasting influence on culture, government, laws, language, and other aspects of society worldwide. That influence continues on a lesser scale.