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United Kingdom Government
 
 
 

General

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as head of state; the monarch of the UK serves as head of state of fifteen other Commonwealth countries, putting the UK in a personal union with those other states. The Crown has sovereignty over the Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey. Collectively, these three territories are known as the Crown dependencies, lands owned by the British monarch but not part of the UK. They are not part of the European Union. However, the Parliament of the UK has the authority to legislate for the dependencies, and the British government manages their foreign affairs and defence.

The UK has fourteen overseas territories around the world, the last remaining territories of the British Empire. The overseas territories are not considered part of the UK, but in most cases, the local populations have British citizenship and the right of abode in the UK. This has been the case since 2002.

The UK has a parliamentary government based on strong democratic traditions: the Westminster system has been emulated around the world – a legacy of the British Empire.

The UK's constitution governs the legal framework of the country and consists mostly of written sources, including statutes, judge made case law, and international treaties. As there is no technical difference between ordinary statutes and law considered to be "constitutional law," the British Parliament can perform "constitutional reform" simply by passing Acts of Parliament and thus has the power to change or abolish almost any written or unwritten element of the constitution. However, no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change. The UK is one of the three countries in the world today that does not have a codified constitution (the other two being New Zealand and Israel).

The position of Prime Minister, the UK's head of government, belongs to the current leader of the political party that can obtain the confidence of a plurality in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister and their Cabinet are formally appointed by the Monarch to form Her Majesty's Government. However, the Prime Minister chooses the Cabinet, and by convention, HM The Queen respects the Prime Minister's choices. The Cabinet is traditionally drawn from members of the Prime Minister's party in both legislative houses, and mostly from the House of Commons, to which they are responsible. Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet, all of whom are sworn into Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, and become Ministers of the Crown.

The Parliament of the UK that meets in the Palace of Westminster, is the ultimate legislative authority in the UK. A devolved parliament in Scotland and devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, and Wales were established following public approval as expressed in referenda, but according to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, these could be abolished by the UK parliament. The UK parliament is made up of two houses: an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords, and any Bill passed requires the assent of HM The Queen to become law. For elections to the House of Commons, the UK is divided into 646 constituencies, with 529 in England, 18 in Northern Ireland, 59 in Scotland and 40 in Wales. Each constituency elects one Member of Parliament by simple plurality. General Elections are called by the Monarch when the Prime Minister so advises. Though there is no minimum term for a Parliament, a new election must be called within five years of the previous general election.

The UK's three major political parties are the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, winning between them 616 out of the 646 seats available in the House of Commons at the 2005 General Election. Most of the remaining seats were won by parties that only contest elections in one part of the UK such as the Scottish National Party (Scotland only), Plaid Cymru (Wales only), and the Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Ulster Unionist Party, and Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland only, though Sinn Féin also contests elections in Ireland). In accordance with party policy, no elected Sinn Féin Member of Parliament has ever attended the House of Commons to speak in the House on behalf of their constituents as Members of Parliament are required to take an oath of allegiance to the Monarch. However, the current five Sinn Féin MPs have since 2002 made use of the offices and other facilities available at Westminster.


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