The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a sovereign state consisting of four countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It includes the island of Great Britain as well as the north-eastern corner of Ireland. Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland and is the only part of the United Kingdom (UK) directly bordering another sovereign state.
The country is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state while the prime minister is the head of government. The UK’s economy is the sixth largest in the world and the third largest in Europe, after Germany and France. Long an industrial power, the UK made the switch from heavy industry to an innovative, service-orientated economy. In 21st century Britain, the pharmaceutical and aerospace industries are the major players. Some of the world’s best known companies come from the UK, including BP, British Airways and Vodafone.