The United Kingdom was created in 1707 when the staff union between the kingdoms of England and Scotland (which had existed since Elizabeth 1’s death in 1603) was transformed into a real union. Wales had been in union with England since 1536, while Ireland joined in 1801. In 1921, most of Ireland broke out and formed the Irish Free State, later the Republic of Ireland.
With the industrial revolution of the mid-1700s and the 1800s, and with colonies in all parts of the world, Britain developed history’s largest empire. In the 1900s, the British Empire was lost, but Britain is still considered a political, economic and cultural superpower. Free-trade thinking and parliamentarism are ideas originating in the United Kingdom, and English has become one of the major languages of the world.
The United Kingdom was founded in 1707. The new state formation was called The United Kingdom of Great Britain. It was organized as a unitary state and gained institutions that were essentially based on the existing English. Scotland had to give up its parliament, but was given the right to elect 45 representatives to the Lower House and 16 peers to the Upper House in London. The Scots retained their Presbyterian church system and their own courts. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of United Kingdom.
In Scotland, there was quite strong opposition to Britain taking part in the Spanish War of Succession, and after the peace-friendly theories took over the government in 1710, they made peace with France (peace in Utrecht, 1713); The United Kingdom won Gibraltar, Minorca, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. When Queen Anna died without heirs in 1714, the closest Protestant descendant became after Jacob 1, vicar Georg of Hanover, king of Great Britain (Georg 1). He immediately appointed a clean whig-government. The new king felt most like German and never became familiar with British conditions. He usually stayed away from the government meetings, and the government therefore gained greater independence.
In 1720, the economic life in Britain was hit by an economic crisis that was primarily due to exaggerated expectations of the newly formed South Sea Bubble. Several of the leading ministers were implicated, and Robert Walpole took over as prime minister (1721-1742).
Georg 2 (1727–1760), like his father, did little to engage in British domestic politics, and the parliamentary system was further established during his reign. Formally, much of the political power lay in the House of Commons, but in reality Walpole and his government colleagues dominated, using an ingenious system of bribes and personal connections and manipulation of ” rotten boroughs ” to gain complete control over the House’s composition and policy. Whiggene worked successfully to preserve peace outward, and by this and his fortunate economic policies, contributed much to paving the way for a strong expansion in the country’s trade, shipping and industry.
The breakthrough of industrialism
During the 18th century, the United Kingdom underwent the first phase of a profound social and economic change process. The population increased from about five million to about nine million. In rural areas, continued concentration of ownership of the earth through the so-called “corral” (enclosure) of the old commons. Based on parliamentary decisions in each case, the large landowners could merge land into larger units and divide the old commonwealth between those who had rights there. This led to those who were most dependent on the public, the small farmers, being pushed out. The earth came on fewer hands, and landlords got stronger control.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Provides latest population data about United Kingdom. Lists by Year from 1950 to 2020. Also includes major cities by population.
Parallel to, and partly as a result of, a change in operating methods. Greater emphasis was placed on animal husbandry at the expense of arable farming, and better breeds of livestock were developed. Operations were also intensified; fertilizers were improved and more complex exchange schemes were introduced, which led to increased returns. The potato became important after a while. All this required labor, and the countryside therefore did not experience any people’s escape by pushing the small farmers away, they became landless farmers instead. Much of the population growth occurred in the cities, while the rural population consisted of a few landlords, relatively few farmers who used large areas of land, and many landless laborers.
British foreign trade increased rapidly, especially after 1750, and the United Kingdom gradually assumed Dutch’s role as the world’s leading trading nation. This led to increased demand for British manufactured goods, especially textile products.
The British textile industry was characterized by a highly fragmented structure at the beginning of the 18th century. Merchants bought the raw materials (wool) and accounted for the turnover of the finished textiles, but left the processing (spinning, weaving) to independent “subcontractors”. Both spinners and weavers usually owned their own production equipment, and human labor was the main contributing factor (publisher system).
From the mid-18th century, this production system was completely remodeled. Production was moved from workers’ homes in the countryside to large factories in the cities. Large machines made of iron and partially driven by steamers replaced small, often homemade wooden tools. The workers no longer owned the production equipment and had no control over their own working day. These are some of the most conspicuous aspects of the development commonly referred to as the Industrial Revolution.
Technological developments started in the textile industry with John Kay’s flying shuttle (1733); the mechanical spinning machine came in the 1760s, and a water-powered spinning machine in 1769. James Watt’s steam engine was used in the textile industry in the 1780s, and this invention gained great importance in other industries as well; especially in the iron and coal mines. The need for iron increased greatly as the new technology was introduced in the textile industry. The mines had to go deeper into the mines for iron and coal, and the steam engine was needed to keep the pumps running. Iron production required coal for smelting, and the steam engines were also fired with coal; coal production therefore increased significantly.
The question of whether people got better or worse during the first industrialization phase has been debated for a long time without any clear answer. But what is certain is that the textile workers, like the agricultural workers, experienced a clear proletarianization.
The expansion of the overseas trade and shipping business brought Britain into conflicts with other European states, especially about the dominion of the New World. In 1740, the country joined the Austrian succession war on Austria’s side, and severe setbacks in the first stages of the war led to Walpole’s departure in 1742. Later a British army fought with honors on the continent; Georg 2 was the last British monarch to lead his own troops in battle (the Battle of Dettingen in 1743). The French were beaten back in North America, and when Stuart’s throne deputy, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (Karl Edvard Stuart), via Scotland made a whimper similar to Derby, he was driven back and added a crushing defeat at the Culloden in north-east Scotland in 1746.
During the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), Britain stood on the side of Prussia against France, Austria and Spain. The energetic William Pitt the Elder led the government, and the British won significant victories both in North America and in India, where Robert Clive founded British rule with the victory at Plassey in 1757. By the Paris peace of 1763, the British won Canada (the area into The Great Lakes), New Brunswick, Louisiana and Florida.
Georg 3 (1760-1820) joined the Tories, which gained government power almost continuously for 60 years. There were contradictions between the king and parliament, but more serious dissatisfaction was felt in the ancient colonies of North America. It was first and foremost linked to ever-increasing taxation and severe trade and industrial restrictions imposed on the colonies to protect the motherland’s business.
There were several episodes (including the “Tea Company” in Boston in 1773) before the colonists went into open revolt in 1775. The 13 Colonial Congress in Philadelphia proclaimed the United States Independence on July 4, 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence. At sea, the British won major victories over France and Spain, which entered the war on the side of the rebels, but on land they were beaten by the Americans (Yorktown, 1781), and at the peace of Versailles in 1783 they had to recognize the independence of the colonies. However, Britain retained Canada and most of its other overseas possessions.
In 1783 William Pitt became prime minister, only 24 years old; he held the post of 1801 and from 1804 until his death in 1806. Pitt was unwaveringly tory and a fanatical enemy of the new revolutionary regime in France; the relationship between the two countries was tightened, partly as a result of the French annexation of Belgium. France declared Britain war in 1793.
The British played a modest role in the continent’s campaigns on the continent, but the country’s fleet became an important factor in the years of war of exhaustion. In 1798, Lord Nelson destroyed the French Mediterranean fleet at Abukir, putting an end to the French conquest of Egypt. Irish rebels asked the French for help to disengage from Britain, but the French invasion fleet was destroyed by storm in 1796. A new rebellion was brutally abolished in 1798, the Irish parliament was abolished in 1800, and Ireland was incorporated into a real union with Great Britain.
The war broke out again in 1803, Lord Nelson destroyed the Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar in 1805, the Danish-Norwegian fleet was abducted after the bombing of Copenhagen in 1807 (see Navy), and from 1808 the Duke of Wellington waged his victorious war of extinction against the French troops in Portugal and Spain. Napoleon’s attempt to crack Britain through the mainland barrier failed completely, not least because the country managed to acquire markets in South America for its growing industrial production.
Great Britain continued the coalition wars against Napoleon. The large subsidies to the Allies, Russia, Austria and Prussia, inflicted a staggering government debt on the country, but Napoleon fell to the end, and in the peace settlement, Britain was awarded compensation for its losses in new territories. Britain thus emerged from the battle as the dominant colonial power; France and the Netherlands were almost completely eliminated in the battle for overseas colonies.
Reaction and Reform Time (1815–1846)
After 1815, the United Kingdom was hit by a post-war economic depression, with sales difficulties, price declines and unemployment. At the same time, social unrest arose in the wake of the industrial revolution, with a lack of workers’ protection and widespread women’s and children’s labor. The high tariff on imported grain, which was introduced with the support of the landowners in the Lower House, affected the broad masses.
All this led to strong fermentation in the broad layers. In the demand for electoral reform, they could be united with the new industrial gentlemen. From a number of almost extinct constituencies, so-called rat boroughs, two representatives were still sent to the House of Commons, while a number of the new industrial towns in the north were not represented at all. But the Tories, led by the strictly conservative Lord Castlereagh, opposed the reform plans.
Only during Georg 4 (1820-1830) did a more liberal direction come to power. The United Kingdom recognized the South and Central American states, assisted the Greeks in their freedom struggle and began to curtail the customs protection system. The following Tory government under the Duke of Wellington had to agree on the full political equality of the dissenters and Catholics by repealing the Test Act in 1829 and allowing the formation of trade unions.
Under the influence of the July revolution in 1830 and with the support of William 4, then the Whig leader Lord Gray was able to carry out the electoral reform in 1832, and the electorate increased by almost one million. From that time, the political center of gravity came to lie in the House of Commons. It was primarily the bourgeoisie in the cities that gained greater political influence as a result of the reform.
A number of reform laws were passed (including poverty law and municipal law). In 1833, slavery in the colonies was abolished. Opponents of the grain tariff now gathered in The Anti-Corn-Law League, while the so-called charter movement demanded electoral and voting reforms. The new Tory government under Sir Robert Peel dampened the Chartists’ agitation for a more democratic electoral system and fueled Daniel O’Connell’s move to “repeal” the union between Ireland and the United Kingdom. But at the same time, Peel made tariff reductions, and under the pressure of the grain opponents’ agitation in 1839 and famine in Ireland, he realized the necessity of abolishing grain tariffs. This was adopted after a fierce battle in 1846.
Thus, the United Kingdom had embarked on the newer socio-economic principles of free competition, and eventually free trade was completely completed by the repeal of the Navigation Act in 1849 and the Trade Treaty with France in 1860.
Foreign policy in the mid-1800s
During Queen Victoria (1837-1901), the United Kingdom experienced rapid economic development, especially related to industrialization. The value of Britain’s total foreign trade doubled in the years 1852-1867. During the Crimean War of 1853–1856, France and the United Kingdom supported Turkey, as the Western powers felt their interests in the Near East threatened by Russian aggression in the Black Sea region.
By the peace in Paris in 1856, Russia had to commit to laying down its bases and naval forces in the Black Sea and partly in the Baltic countries, further strengthening Britain’s superiority at sea. In the North American civil war, the United Kingdom recognized the southern states as belligerent power. Lord Palmerston, who led Britain’s foreign policy for more than 20 years, largely kept the country out of the European wars.
The heyday of the bipartisan system
From about 1850, the political groupings of Whigs and Tories gradually evolved into two modern mass parties, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, which alternately took power until 1924. In 1867 the Conservative government of Lord Derby implemented a new electoral reform, which increased the number of voters by more than one million. Liberal William Gladstone became prime minister (1868-1874). He embarked on an active reform policy. Among other things, a secret ballot was introduced to the Lower House, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge were opened to dissenters and the public school was strengthened.
Gladstone’s less energetic foreign policy gave the Conservatives power in the 1874 election. The new government was led by Benjamin Disraeli, the father of modern British imperialism. He had romantic notions of Britain’s greatness and made India imperial in 1877. He bought the Egyptian khediv’s shares in the Suez Canal, vigorously opposed Russia’s claims at the Berlin Congress in 1878, and acquired Cyprus. He also started a war with Afghanistan in 1877, and the Boer Republic of Transvaal was annexed the same year.
In domestic politics, Disraeli developed the notion of “tory democracy”; ideas for trying to improve the conditions of the lower classes through a social reform policy. But dissatisfaction with the large expenditures on foreign policy brought power back into the hands of Gladstone (1880-1885), which ended the war against Afghanistan, and in 1881 granted Transvaal independence. To the Irish, he continued his forthcoming policy of improved land laws, and in 1885 he implemented the third electoral reform, giving 2.5 million new voters the right to vote.
After a brief conservative government under the Salisbury marquee, Gladstone’s third government followed (1886). Now he tried to solve one of their biggest tasks: acquiring the Irish Home Rule (Home Rule). He proposed a new Irish land law and the establishment of the Irish parliament and government. This led to a crackdown on the Liberal Party. The Home Rule Act was rejected. In his fourth government (1892–1894), Gladstone once again tried in vain to introduce the Home Rule for Ireland.
Under conservative leadership until 1905, the United Kingdom pursued an active colonial and foreign policy. A number of areas were conquered in Africa, partly in competition with French interests. The driving force in these enterprises was Colonel Minister Joseph Chamberlain, and it was also his policies that led to the Civil War (1899-1902) that ended with the incorporation of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State into the South African colonial kingdom.
In 1904, an agreement was reached with France which organized the colonial war and gave France free hands in Morocco and the United Kingdom in a similar position in Egypt. The agreement laid the groundwork for an approach between the two countries. From 1906 a secret military-Franco-British collaboration was underway. An agreement with Japan in 1905 strengthened Britain’s position in East Asia. Relations with Russia had long been poor due to conflicting Russian and British interests in Asia. Now the United Kingdom began a better relationship with Russia by a treaty in 1907 on Persia and Central Asia. Thus, the basis for the triple tent was laid.
Despite the fact that certain attempts were made to reach an understanding with Germany, German colonial and naval policy appeared to be challenging in the United Kingdom. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the government and public opinion were divided on the issue of neutrality/war participation. The violation of Belgium’s neutrality led Britain to join the entente. The decisive factor was probably fear of German troops in the canal ports and a possibly German-dominated Europe.
World war one
Britain’s trade could continue for a time undisturbed, and war costs were largely covered by taxes besides loans. However, the Minister of War, Lord Kitchener, did not succeed in both procuring new armies, supplying them and allies with material and ammunition, and planning the campaigns. The consequences were accidents on the overseas fronts, especially during the Gallipoli campaign in 1915, and ammunition shortages on the western front and in Russia.
The Conservatives demanded a more vigorous warfare and refused to support the government. Herbert Asquith was forced to form a coalition government in 1915, when Liberal leader David Lloyd George took over the new Ministry of Ammunition and increased production after improving relations with labor unions. In 1916, compulsory military service was introduced, despite strong opposition from the unions and contrary to all old-liberal principles.
Protestants in Northern Ireland had opposed the Home Rule in 1914, and Ireland was on the brink of civil war. The Irish Easter rebellion of 1916, the death of Kitchener, failed offensives (in Russia and at Somme in France), and the German submarines’ threat to the supplies, contributed to a general demand for firmer warfare. Lloyd George formed government in December 1916. The critical point of the naval war occurred when the unrestricted German submarine war began on February 1, 1917, but when the United States joined the war on April 5, it saved the situation. Inwardly, the Irish question was tightened as the nationalists, tired of waiting in vain for the Home Rule, denied the government continued support in the House of Commons.
The interwar period
The war led to further democratization. In 1918, a radical voting rights reform was passed, giving voting rights to two million new male voters and for the first time to women as well. The reform gave political rights to about eight million women after a long and bitter agitation. After the end of the war, Lloyd George won an overwhelming election victory.
The UK was now in financial trouble as the industry faced much greater overseas competition; partly it was based on a decline in goods (textiles, coal), and it was also technically and organizationally obsolete. From being a creditor, the UK had become a debtor to the US, which now took the lead in the world economy. When the Great Crisis began in 1920, it halted the government’s planned reform effort, forcing it into a hard-fought savings policy and a wage war that led to major labor conflicts, not least in the coal industry. At the same time, exports fell sharply; unemployment rose to two million.
On January 21, 1919, Ireland’s Republican Party, Sinn Fein, proclaimed an Irish Republic with Éamon De Valera as president, and since then there has been open war on the island. In July 1921, a ceasefire was concluded and negotiations were concluded which ended in an agreement. It gave Ireland domination rights as a freehold. Northern Ireland remained British. The conflict in Egypt ended in Britain recognizing the country as an independent kingdom in 1922, but at the same time Britain had great difficulties with the Arabs and Turkey. The Conservatives, who were particularly dissatisfied with foreign policy, blasted Lloyd George’s coalition government in 1922. The next month’s parliamentary elections gave a large conservative majority. Labor Party (Labor Party) from now on took the role of the Liberals as the second major party alongside the Conservatives, and Ramsay MacDonald formed Britain’s first short-term Labor government in 1924.
Heavy labor struggles came when an extensive coal mining strike in 1926 was extended to a general strike. The government responded with state of emergency and used military and volunteers to carry out the most necessary social tasks. The strike ended with a defeat for the labor movement, and by a law of 1927 the power of trade unions was significantly curtailed. The law remained in effect after 1945.
The Great Crisis of 1929 again increased unemployment and forced the government into austerity policies, which created demolitions. In 1931, the crisis hit Britain’s finances so badly that Britain had to abandon the gold standard and devalue the pound, which in the long run proved to be favorable. A new trade policy with customs protection, control of agricultural production and prices, quota changes and tariff preferences for the Empire’s lands by agreement in Ottawa in 1932, changed the UK’s economic line since the 1840s. The free trade period was over. The hard cuts and debt conversion restored finances, and in 1934-1935 the crisis, but not unemployment, was overcome.
Georg 5 died on January 20, 1936 and was followed by Edvard 8. The King’s relationship with and plan to marry an American woman, Wallis Simpson, created a crisis in the fall of 1936 that ended with King’s abdication on December 11. He was followed by his brother, Georg 6.
Foreign policy in the 1930s
The Westminster Treaty of 1931 established that dominions were “self-governing societies within the British Empire, equal and in no respect subordinate to each other as members of the English people’s community”. After the war, their position had changed greatly; they were members of the League of Nations, could conclude trade treaties and send out their own diplomats. They were themselves masters of war and peace and exerted great influence on Britain’s foreign policy.
Following Hitler’s takeover of power in 1933 and Germany’s violent upheaval, Britain had to hesitate to follow suit. It sought to meet Germany, restricted itself to protests against the violations of the Versailles Treaty and agreed to a naval agreement in June 1935. After Stanley Baldwin was replaced as prime minister by Neville Chamberlain in 1937, British policy was to increase armor while trying to avoid conflicts. The British failed to intervene in the Spanish Civil War, and Chamberlain sought understanding with Hitler and Mussolini to create a more peaceful atmosphere. As a result, Secretary of State Anthony Eden left the government and was succeeded by Lord Halifax. Until March 1939, this had to follow Chamberlain’s line.
Chamberlain did not oppose the annexation of Austria and also allowed the Sudet area to be incorporated into the German Empire. Chamberlain’s three visits to Hitler in September 1938 ended in the Munich agreement. Hitler’s breach of promise and march in Prague in March 1939 created the decisive fluctuation in Britain’s foreign policy; together with France, the country guaranteed the borders of Poland, Romania and Greece in the event of a German attack and sought to negotiate a peace pact with the Soviet Union. Negotiations failed, partly because France and the United Kingdom would not allow the Soviets to intervene in the Baltic countries and Finland, and the German-Soviet non-attack pact on August 21 accelerated the crisis.
Following Hitler’s attack on Poland on September 1, 1939, Britain declared Germany war two days later. All dominions joined the United Kingdom and declared Germany war. Winston Churchill formed a unifying government on May 11, 1940. The decisive strength test for the British defense was during the ” Battle of Britain ” in the summer and fall of 1940. After the German attack was defeated, the United Kingdom became the leading European allied force, and British forces fought in Europe, Africa and Asia.
Britain made great efforts during the war to exploit all resources in the fight against the Axis powers. The civilian population was mobilized for service in industry and production increased, despite bombing and commodity shortages. When the war in Europe ended, a large part of the country’s labor force was mobilized in the forces; partly in remote areas. The shortage of manpower was going to hamper the recovery, moreover, the transition from the total war to peace production created special problems.
The first postwar era
In the 1945 elections, Labor came to power and Clement Attlee became prime minister. The government embarked on a comprehensive social reform program aimed at making the UK a welfare state. At the same time, it sought to put parts of the economy under public control. In 1945, the government decided to nationalize the Bank of England, the coal mining industry, the telegraph companies and civil air transport. Its most important task was to cover the large current account deficit, to restructure the industry and to rebuild the merchant fleet. Exports proved difficult to increase as coal production failed, and the government reintroduced many of the rationing provisions from the war. In the social field, however, great progress was made, including the introduction of sickness, old age and unemployment insurance in 1946.
Foreign policy tensions prevailed in relations with the Soviet Union. Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin proposed stronger defense cooperation between the UK, France and the Benelux countries; an agreement was signed in Brussels on March 17, 1948 under the impression of the coup in Czechoslovakia, and a joint defense team was established. Bevin played an important role in the negotiations that led to the Atlantic Pact in 1949. Britain supported the creation of the Council of Europe, but refused to agree to the proposals on European federation, in particular France and Italy advocates.
The financial position gradually improved after 1948, in large part thanks to the funds from Marshall Aid. By 1948, the United Kingdom had used up loans from both the United States and Canada that should have lasted five years. In 1949, the pound was sharply devalued against the dollar. In this way, the government hoped to increase exports to the United States and reduce imports from the dollar area. In the critical economic situation, the extraordinary expenditure on defense meant a danger to stability. By the end of 1949, however, the government had implemented most of its program from 1945. The most important thing remaining was the nationalization of the steel and iron industry; it was implemented in 1951.
In the 1951 election, a conservative majority and government was led by Winston Churchill. Anthony Eden again became Foreign Minister and took over as Prime Minister after Churchill in 1955. The government abolished the nationalization of, among other things, the road transport and the steel industry. However, social welfare policy was maintained and further developed. The UK experienced many strikes in the 1950s, with a peak in the summer of 1955. The government drastically intervened with the strikers. At the same time, the fear of inflation forced the government into powerful savings measures.
The liquidation of the empire
In 20 years, the dismantling of the British Empire reduced the United Kingdom from a world empire to a European state. In the Middle East, Britain faced major problems in relations with Iran, Egypt and Palestine. In February 1947, negotiations with the Arab states broke down, and the British government decided to withdraw all British forces from Palestine. In August of that year, India and Pakistan gained full independence, but both states continued as members of The Commonwealth.
In several of the African colonies there was considerable unrest in the 1950s. In Kenya, the protracted Mau-Mau uprising broke out. The Rhodesia-Nyasaland Federation was established in 1953. The same year the United Kingdom signed an agreement with Egypt on Sudan, but there was still disagreement about the future of the Suez Canal. In the summer of 1954 new negotiations started with Egypt. An agreement was reached for British forces to be withdrawn from the zone within 20 months. After Nasser’s nationalization of the canal in 1956, the British and French attacked Egypt (see the Suez conflict). The war created strong bitterness among the British allies, not least in the United States, and led to major economic setbacks for Britain.
The British also had numerous difficulties in Cyprus and with a number of areas in Africa; in particular, it proved difficult to get things right in Rhodesia. In March 1957, Ghana became an independent state. In the summer, British forces intervened to help the Sultan of Muscat and Oman against rebels. The intervention was met with fears that the Conservative government would continue the “Suez line” elsewhere in the Middle East. In August, Malaya gained full independence and joined The Commonwealth. In June 1959, Singapore became a separate state with full internal autonomy. The Conservative government (1957–1963 under the leadership of Harold Macmillan) intervened in its foreign policy to strengthen ties between the Commonwealth countries.
The United Kingdom played a leading role in the efforts to establish the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960. However, a number of Commonwealth countries believed that British ties to the EEC would damage The Commonwealth, and from the British endeavors to find a scheme that would protect the old economic relations between the countries and territories within The Commonwealth. The debate on EEC membership so far ended the French veto against British membership in 1963, but created a crisis in the relationship between the two countries. Rising unemployment, dissatisfaction with immigration laws and a serious security scandal (the Profumo affair) increased criticism of the government, and Macmillan resigned. After a brief interlude, Labor won the 1964 election and formed government under the leadership of Harold Wilson (1964-1970).
The Labor government implemented a number of measures to strengthen the foreign economy. A levy on imported goods caused a lot of irritation in EFTA, which the British believed was in breach of the provisions of the EFTA Agreement. The current account deficit proved difficult to rectify, partly because exports were hit several times in the 1960s by extensive strikes in production, transport and relations. In the foreign policy field, serious problems arose with the Commonwealth countries due to the difficulties with Rhodesia. Negotiations Stranded in 1965; it resulted in a breach that later led Rhodesia to declare independence.
The United Kingdom renewed its application for membership in the Common Market in the fall of 1966, but the following year, new French resistance prevented the British from starting negotiations. The economic situation was particularly difficult, and the government had to make unpopular cuts in the social budget and increase a number of consumer goods taxes. The Middle East crisis in June 1967 led to the closure of the Suez Canal and difficulties with oil supplies to the United Kingdom.
Extensive strike actions in the autumn of 1967, including in the ports and in the railways, increased the problems for the government. The pound was devalued, and cuts in the state budget were made; Particular attention was given to the decision to reduce the British obligations in the defense area “east of Suez”. Following the government’s decision, all British forces were to be withdrawn from the Far East and the areas of the Persian Gulf during 1971. An exception was made for Hong Kong.
Britain in the 1970s. Economic and social turmoil
The new Conservative government led by Edward Heath (1970-1974) started negotiations for British membership in the EC for the third time. An agreement was signed in 1972, and the United Kingdom became a member of the EC from 1 January 1973. The opposition was great in both the people and Labor, and after the change of government in 1974 the new Wilson government negotiated changes to the agreement with the EC. In a 1975 referendum – the first in British history – 67.2 percent of Britons voted in favor of EC membership.
No government has succeeded in reaching permanent solutions to the Irish problem. The unrest in Northern Ireland caught fire in 1969. Terrorist acts created a hateful atmosphere, and the violence spread to English cities in the 1970s. The British sent large troop forces to Northern Ireland, and from 1972 the province was ruled directly from London. In several cases, ordinary democratic rules of play were set aside to crack terrorism. There were also separatist currents in the other parts of the country. During the 1974 election campaign, reform proposals were made with the aim of giving Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland greater autonomy. In 1979, an advisory referendum was held in Scotland and Wales on expanded self-government, but the proposals did not get a majority.
The fishing conflict with Iceland, the so-called cod war, fiercely ignited the fall of 1975 following Iceland’s decision to extend the fishing limit to 200 nautical miles. There were a number of episodes between British frigates and Icelandic guard ships. The diplomatic connection between the two countries was broken by the Icelanders, but after mediation from Norway a fishing agreement was signed in June 1976 between the two countries.
In the early 1970s, the balance of payments deteriorated and the pound further weakened. This was due, among other things, to increased international competition, rising cost levels, the resource situation – in addition to unreasonable production systems and a working life characterized by strikes and labor crises. The Heath government launched a comprehensive anti-inflation program in 1972–1973, with the aim, among other things, of stricter control of wages and prices. Labor and the national organization were opposed. Several strikes were initiated, partly in protest of the program. After a conflict in the coal mining industry in 1973, Heath wrote new elections in 1974. The Conservatives lost the majority, and Labor formed a minority government that received increased support after another election. The strike among the miners was ended, and the government announced comprehensive measures to bring the economy to a standstill.
At the same time, there was a strong expansion of the oil industry as a result of oil discoveries in the North Sea. But confidence in the British economy remained weak. British politics was also under the Labor government in 1974-1979 (led by James Callaghan from 1976) characterized by financial problems in the form of inflation, falling pound value, unemployment and unrest in the world of work. The Labor government’s inability to cope with the economic problems and the trade union movement led to growing dissatisfaction. The May 1979 parliamentary elections therefore became a great triumph for the Conservative party, and Margaret Thatcher became the new prime minister.
To read about Britain in the 1980s, see the UK article under Thatcher.
The growing discontent with Margaret Thatcher led to her being thrown out of her own in 1990. The precipitating cause was the Thatcher government’s introduction of the poll tax (poll tax), a tax imposed on all residents regardless of income. John Major emerged victorious from the leadership struggle and became the new prime minister in the period 1990-1997. He abolished the cup tax and turned the party’s policy into a more moderate pragmatic course. Major surprisingly won the parliamentary elections in 1992, but the majority was reduced to 21 seats. Through losses in all the supplementary elections and party leaps to the Liberal Democrats, Major lost the majority before the 1997 elections.
In the 1990s, the Conservative Party was torn to pieces by a raging dispute over European politics. The opposition to the Maastricht Treaty was great, and Major had to ask cabinet questions to get the agreement passed in the House of Commons. In 1994 he had to ask cabinet questions again to secure the transfer of UK money to the EU. A number of other European polls were won by the narrowest possible margin. An increasing fraction of euro skeptics took on more and more of the political agenda, and when Major was forced to print new elections by the end of the five-year term, the party was in disarray. The Conservatives made their worst choice in history, and several of the party’s leading politicians lost their seats in parliament. Major then resigned as party leader and was succeeded by euro skeptic William Hague. Hague’s tenure in 1997–2001 put the Conservative party at the very top of mainstream British politics, and the party made just as poor a choice in 2001 as it did in 1997.
Economically, the British experienced downturns in the early 1990s. The state budget deficit was huge, productivity and sales were at a bottom level, the export industry was doing poorly, the housing market was collapsing more or less, and consumers were cautious. The number of unemployed rose again to almost three million. In September 1992, the pound was withdrawn from European currency cooperation and in practice devalued. This led to an economic boom again from the middle of the decade, but with hard tools. Further cuts were made in public budgets, and indirect taxes became higher and higher. But inflation and interest rates remained low, and from 1996 unemployment also fell. Privatization continued with, among others, parts of British Rail. In 1992 Major proposed to close down over half of the coal mines.
After the 1992 election defeat, John Smith took over as Labor leader. He launched a comprehensive modernization program in the party, which among other things reduced the influence of the trade union movement. Smith died suddenly in 1994 and was followed by Tony Blair, who continued Smith’s modernization line. “New Labor” was transformed into a moderate Social Democratic Party with a concern for the middle class and the business community. The 1997 election was a huge triumph for Labor, making its best choice ever. Tony Blair’s new Labor government initiated a large-scale reform process. Modernization led Labor to abandon socialist principles, and Miners’ leader Arthur Scargill broke out and started his own socialist labor party. But the reform process had appealed to the middle class, and Labor held the post in the 2001 election, although the low turnout signaled some dissatisfaction with Labor and the party’s power arrogance.
The conflict in Northern Ireland took a new turn in 1994 with ceasefire and peace talks. Despite several setbacks, the peace process continued. Tony Blair met in 1997 with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, the first meeting between Republicans and the British Prime Minister since the 1920s. In the spring of 1998, a peace agreement was signed which included the establishment of a people-elected assembly in Northern Ireland and a separate North-South council in Ireland. However, the implementation of the peace plan went slow, and in practice stood still for long periods despite stubborn efforts, including by the United States, under President Bill Clinton.
Foreign policy has led the Labor government to a more positive line to the EU integration process, but the United Kingdom did not participate in the new currency union. In the summer of 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China, and the last remnant of the old empire was gone.
Constitutional reforms and a monarchy in crisis
In 1997 Labor went to elections, among other things, on the promise of constitutional reform. In the fall of 1997, a referendum was held in Scotland, with a clear majority for the establishment of a separate Scottish Parliament. A week later, a referendum was held in Wales, with a scarcely majority voting for the establishment of a Welsh assembly. In both referendums, the Yes side was supported by Labor, the Liberal Democrats and the local nationalists, while the Conservatives were opposed. In 1999 elections were held for Parliament in Scotland and the Assembly in Wales. Scotland and Wales got their own governments from 1999.
The most dramatic reforms have been about the House’s position. Following a proposal from the government, in 1999 the House of Commons decided that the inheritance words should no longer automatically be given a seat in the House of Commons. The reform meant that the upper house lost political power and also that the composition of the house became more similar to the composition of the lower house. In 1998, the Upper House consisted of a total of 1196 members, including 755 with hereditary nobility titles and 374 appointed members (life peers). In 1999, 667 of the inheritance words had to go off; 92 had to keep their seats. In 2006, 623 of the 741 members of Overhuset were life peers. From 2003, work was also started to deprive the House of Lords of the Supreme Court, and the position of Lord Chancellor was proposed to be abolished (see Lord (High) Chancellor)
In 1992, the heir to the throne Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, was separated from Princess Diana. The couple divorced in 1996, and the divorce put many questions into the future of the monarchy. Also the queen’s second son, Andrew, Duke of York, were separated in 1992 and divorced from the Duchess Sarah in 1996. Princess Anne was officially divorced in 1992. In November 1992 a fire broke out at Windsor Castle, and Queen Elizabeth called 1992 his annus horribilis (horrible year).
In the fall of 1997, Princess Diana was killed in a car accident, triggering violent emotional reactions in the UK. The reactions to the accident became a further burden to the monarchy, which in many people’s opinion has stiffened in its old forms and did not adapt to modern times. In 2005, Prince Charles remarried Camilla Parker Bowles – without the monarchy debate subsiding.