Monday, March 14, 2005

This just in - England is a country

A little while ago I wrote to the British Consulate-General in Osaka to ask them for the official definition of whether or not England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are countries.

I've been having trouble explaining the concept of the United Kingdom to my students: whenever I show them the Union Jack, nine times out of ten they recognise it as the flag for England, at which point I have to explain that, actually, it's the flag for the United Kingdom, which is made up of four countries: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It's a tricky concept for them to grasp as you can imagine.

However, one of my teachers made a good point the other day. She asked me how England could be a country if the United Kingdom was a country too. "How can there be a country inside another country?", she said. "Good point", I said.

Surely if the UK is a country, then England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales must simply be regions of that country. But if they're just regions, why does each country have a national football team? And conversely, why do we send a "Great Britain" team to the Olympics, instead of separate teams from the four "countries"/"regions"?

So I sent an email to the British Consulate to ask them for an official definition of the UK, and today I received this reply:

Dear Mr Lewis Packwood

This is the explanation of the concept of the UK.
I hope you will find it useful.

Best wishes
(Name deleted by me)
British Consulate-General, Osaka


The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a country with England, Scotland and Wales also usually considered countries and / or nations. This peculiarity of history stems from the Acts of Union that occurred from 1536 onwards where the individual parliaments with England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland decided to form a single government in London. The individual acts are;

· Acts of Union 1536-1543 joining England and Wales (as the Kingdom of England)
· Act of Union 1707 joining the Kingdoms of Scotland and England (to form the Kingdom of Great Britain)
· Act of Union 1800 joining Ireland to Great Britain (to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland)

You will have to divert to your history books if you wish to know the many reasons for these acts but they are generally due to England's heavy influence on its smaller neighbours (especially with Wales) and when in 1603 James VI of Scotland succeded Elizabeth the first to become James I of England as well.

The simplest way to explain it is that 4 individual countries in the course of history decided to form a single government (and hence a single country in the eyes of the world), yet still maintain their borders and national identities (and hence still separate countries in the eyes of the populace). Of course with Scotland regaining a parliament in 1999 through devolution the power of each country within a country is always changing.

So there you go - England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are countries within a country, which is a pretty unique situation when you think about it. God knows how I'm going to explain all this to my students - it's hard enough to get them to point to England on a map, let alone explain the historical complexities of whether or not it's a country.


Blogger Paul Hewitt said...

Wow. Even I am struggling with that definition. Just tell them that we are very special, unique and complicated.

Only someone at a consulate would come up with this explaination.

8:12 pm  
Blogger lemaiz said...

Lewis, you actaully *did* do it! I salute you, sir.

12:14 am  
Blogger The Funky Drummer said...

I don't buy it.

Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland are simply cities in the country of England.

10:41 am  
Blogger Phoenix said...

Funky, I thought England was a city in the country of Europe.

10:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are all wrong. England, the UK for that matter, is annexed from America.

11:42 am  
Blogger The Funky Drummer said...

America is just one of the many colonies of the British Isles.

10:51 am  

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