The UK in the wider world

What is the place of the UK in the wider world

The UK was once one of the world’s most powerful political and trading nations. The British Empire covered almost one-third of the Earth’s land surface, with colonies all over the world. Many of the former colonial countries gained independence in the twentieth century.

The Commonwealth is one of the world’s oldest political association of states. Its roots go back to the British Empire when some countries were ruled directly or indirectly by Britain. Some of these countries became self-governing while retaining Britain’s monarch as Head of State. They formed the British Commonwealth of Nations.

In 1949 the association we know today, the Commonwealth came into being. Since then, independent countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific have joined the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth organisations are involved in diverse activities, from helping countries with trade negotiations to encouraging women’s leadership, building the small business sector, supporting youth participation at all levels of society and providing experts to write laws.

Today, the UK continues to have political, economic and cultural influence through organisations such as:

  • The UN
  • The UN Security Council
  • The G8
  • NATO

The UK remains one of the world’s major economies and is a global financial centre. The UK is also highly regarded for its democratic values, legal system, rich cultural heritage, values and fairness.

What are the UK’s links with the wider world?


The UK trades with many countries around the world. The image below shows the UK’s top 10 trading partners.

UK Top 10 trading partners

UK Top 10 trading partners

The UK’s main trading partners are the EU, USA and China. Germany is the primary source for imports and the USA the leading destination for exports. Following Brexit, the UK is likely to develop stronger trading links with India, China and the USA.

The internet is becoming increasingly important to UK businesses in the creative and financial sectors.


Television is one of the leading creative industries, worth over £1.25 billion a year. Programmes such as Top Gear, Downton Abbey and Doctor Who are examples of successful exports.

Fashion, music and films are also important exports, especially to other English-speaking nations.

Migration into the UK has infused British culture with a range of characteristics including food, fashion, festivals and films.


The UK’s strong trading history has led to the development of ports and airports around the world. The UK is linked to the European mainland through the Channel Tunnel.

Ferries and cruise ships transport people to and from the UK from ports such as Southampton, Dover and Hull.

Electronic communications 

The World Wide Web developed Britishish inventor Tim Berners-Lee, has transformed global communications and trade.

The UK is an important hub, for the global network of submarine telecommunications cables, linking Europe to the USA.

What are the UK’s political and economic links with the European Union (EU)?

The UK joined the EU in 1973. Today, the EU consists of 28 countries. It is one of the world’s largest trading blocs and has considerable political and economic influence. In 2016 the UK opted to leave the EU. Until Brexit occurs, the UK remains a member of the EU. Membership of the EU means:

  • the free flow of goods, services, capital and labour between the 28 member states
  • access to European development funds
  • access to a migrant labour force that is prepared to work long hours for a relatively low wage
  • EU laws and regulations apply to the UK
  • the SIngle Payment Scheme supports farmers
  • a substantial amount of money is paid into the EU budget

What are the UK’s political and economic links with the Commonwealth?

The UK has strong economic and political ties with many countries within the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth aims to provide support to individual countries, provide smaller countries with a voice and encourage co-operation between member states. The heads of each country meet every two years to discuss concerns, promote trade and business links and promote sustainable development.

Many British descendants live in Commonwealth countries around the world, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Similarly, many people have also migrated from Commonwealth regions such as India, Nigeria and the Carribean to the UK. This has supported the development of strong cultural and business links.

There are also sporting events, such as the Commonwealth Games, that promote links between Commonwealth countries.

The Commonwealth Games 2014

The Commonwealth Games 2014

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