The Living World
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The UK and the Wider World

The UK was once a dominating world power, controlling more than a quarter of the world’s land through the enormous British Empire at its peak.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, former colonies gained independence across the globe. This marked the official end of the empire by the start of the 21st century. The UK became a member of the Commonwealth and left the EU in 2020.

Internationally, the UK is still an important nation, being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a GDP of $3.1 trillion. The country is an active member of international alliances such as the G7, NATO and the UN Security Council, taking part in important discussions around defence, the environment and the global economy.


In a globalised world, the UK is linked with many countries in various ways.


The UK engages in trade by sea, air, rail and road. The country’s biggest trading partner is the EU, which makes up 50% of their trade, and the UK has a historic relationship with the USA.

In recent years, trade has opened up more with China, and the UK will likely look to countries outside of the EU as it begins distancing itself following its exit from the EU in 2020.


Major ports and airports have developed, in part, to cope with trade. London Heathrow remains one of the busiest airports in the world, serving almost 20 million passengers every year.

The UK has good transport links with mainland Europe through the Channel Tunnel, opened in 1994, and ferries. Ports like Southampton and Dover help transport people all over the world on cruises.


Britain’s culture is a major export for the country and helps stimulate tourism as well as cultural links with other parts of the world.

Cultural exports include art, music, television, film, fashion, literature, sport and architecture.

TV programs such as “Peaky Blinders” and “Doctor Who” have had major international success, while the “Harry Potter” books remain the best-selling novels of all time. Britain’s culture is enhanced by increased migration to the country, and what defines ‘British culture’ is constantly evolving.


The UK is connected to the rest of the world via the internet. Cables pass beneath the sea and provide rapid connections to different countries across the globe.

With the emergence of globally available and fast internet, the financial sector has become reliant on this technology. Most connections are between America and the UK, as economic powerhouses that hold major stock exchanges, with new cables being installed that lead to Tokyo, another important financial hub.

EU and the Commonwealth

The UK has meaningful political and economic relationships with both the EU and the Commonwealth.


The EU (European Union) is made up of 27 member countries (after the UK’s departure). The organisation has strong political and economic influence, which some people in the UK were opposed to. This led to the 2016 Brexit vote and subsequently, Britain leaving the EU.

While it was part of the EU, the UK received:

  • Financial support for farmers
  • Free movement between EU countries and favourable rates for trading
  • Increased migration as people looked for higher wages.
  • EU laws that guaranteed freedoms for the people, while some argued they restricted the UK’s sovereignty


The Commonwealth is a voluntary organisation made up of more than 50 countries. It serves as a way for Britain to maintain relationships with its former colonies in several ways:

  • Providing advice and support to member countries, including development and human rights issues
  • Heads of the countries meet every few years to discuss joint projects
  • Maintaining important trading links
  • Fosters a sense of community and friendly competition among member nations
  • The Commonwealth Games are held every four years

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