For UK prehistory, see prehistory sections under encyclopedias England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.


For Britain’s history from the Roman conquest 43 AD up to the association 1707 see Britannia and the history sections under the encyclicals England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. For Ireland see also Northern Ireland.

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Queen Anna’s time

In 1702 Anna became queen of England and Scotland, the last ruler of the Stuart family, since Parliament, through the Act of Settlement 1701, granted the succession to the Protestant Curfew in Hanover. The issue of succession played an important role when, in 1707, England and Scotland formed a real union and the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed. The Scots accepted the Hanoverian succession and gave up their own parliament but in return got 45 seats in the English lower house and 16 in the upper house. The big gain for Scotland was access to the English market. Britain became one of Europe’s largest free trade areas.

History of United Kingdom

The views on the royal power and the attitude towards tolerance against Catholics and Protestant dissenters were the factors that mainly determined the division of parliament in the parliament and the opinion of the electoral electorate, which in 1715 consisted of close to 300,000 voters. The parties that arose during the conflicts at the end of the 17th century and were given the names Tories and Whigs continued during the 1700s to fight for power in Parliament and thus over the Cabinet. They often had different approaches to foreign policy issues as well. Whigs wanted a powerful British effort on the continent. But the war there (the Spanish war of succession 1701-14) led to increased taxes, not least on earth, and the government debt grew to very high amounts. Tories, who had their followers mainly among low-income landlords (gentry), enforced that the United Kingdom struck peace in Utrecht in 1713. Gibraltar and Newfoundland. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of United Kingdom.

During the first German-speaking kings of the Hanover family (Georg I and Georg II), Parliament’s position was further strengthened. The system can be called parliamentarism although the royal power retained a substantial influence and many members of parliament stayed out of the party constituencies.

The Whig Party’s heyday

Georg I allied himself with whigs against Tories, who were suspected of sympathy. Leading Tory politicians were exiled or imprisoned. As leader of the Whig majority in Parliament, Robert Walpole soon emerged, not least because of his efforts during the great speculation crisis of 1720 (see South Sea bubble). Walpole implemented in Parliament a plan that reduced the economic impact. In 1721, he became the first Treasurer of the Cabinet. The title of prime minister, which the afterlife often gives him, he himself did not want to know. For more than two decades he held the reins. He, on the one hand, collaborated with the court, from 1727 with Georg II. This enabled him to make a number of appointments within the state and church and use them for the benefit of his party. On the other hand, his power rested on a policy that satisfied the electorate, ie. peace and low taxes.

During Walpole’s reign, some of the foundations for Britain’s rapid economic development were also laid during the rest of the century. Among other things, grew a system for better and well-maintained roads (turnpike system). The population began to rise again after an extended period of stagnation. However, at the same time, e.g. William Hogarth’s socially critical painting that Britain was characterized by large and growing gaps between the social classes.

In 1742, a combination of Tories and dissatisfied Whigs succeeded in driving Walpole out of power. A prolonged and little successful war against Spain (see the Austrian succession war) contributed to his fall.

The economic expansion

The shifting movement in central England’s agricultural countryside had begun as early as the 14th century (see enclosure). Around 1700, half of the cultivated land was shifted. Especially from the 1760s and 1970s, Parliament took care of the reform, which thus increased momentum. The whole landscape was changed, as was the social situation. The layer of self-sufficient peasants thinned out, more land came into the hands of landowners and was driven by capital-rich tenants. Slowly won new plant sequences, better plows and other modern implements. Productivity increased steadily.

The breakthrough for iron making with coke instead of charcoal, one of the levers of modernization, came between 1750 and 1780. James Watt patented his first steam engine in 1769. At the same time, textile manufacturing began to use mechanical spinning coats, which helped the production move from home to factories (see further Industrial Revolution). The engine of the increased production of industrial goods was increased domestic demand but also a growing transocean trade. During the 18th century more than twenty times the English exports of iron and textiles to the British colonies in North America and the Caribbean. Economic expansion was linked to the colonial.

The colonial expansion during Pitt d.ä.

Throughout the 18th century, Britain and France fought for dominion in the seas, colonial support points and markets. The main scenes were North America and India. The decision fell at the turn of the century. Then William Pitt appeared. as leader of the Whigs in the lower house. He had begun his political career as an opponent to Walpole’s peace policy. In 1756 he became the actual leader of a ministry tasked with directing Britain through the great European and colonial wars that were going on (see the Seven Years’ War).

On the continent, British troops fought with varying success along with Prussian against a French-Russian-Austrian coalition. But Pitt focused his efforts mainly on the colonies. In North America, fighting had been going on since the 1740s between French, British and Native Americans. Pitt’s powerful effort now gave the British victory: Canada and every country east of Mississippi became British. Pitt also provided active support to the British East India Company under Robert Clive in the ongoing battle against the French in India. Clive’s victories became the beginning of the British empire there. The “First British Empire” was founded. Compare the British Empire.

By 1760, however, Georg II had died, and his successor Georg III wanted to end the war. With the help of the so-called King’s friends in the lower house, he managed to overthrow Pitt. The peace was concluded in 1763 (see the Paris Peace). It gave less than Pitt desired but reaffirmed Britain’s triumph.

Renaissance of the royal power and the tory party

Pitt’s fall was the beginning to the end of the long Whig dominance. For a decade, power in parliament and cabinet changed, but in 1770 Georg III appointed Lord North as the leader of the cabinet, thus initiating a protracted period when royal power and unified tories ruled Britain uninterrupted. The new regime, in particular, had problems with the North American colonies. The colonists there, after 1763, were safe from the threat posed by French and Native Americans but unwilling to bear any part of the war costs Britain had incurred. They refused to be taxed by Parliament in London. The disputes led to the uprising and the war that the British troops capitulated in 1781 (see the North American War of Independence). The first British empire had suffered a serious crack.

The statesman who, in front of others, caused Britain to rise from defeat was William Pitt dy He became prime minister in 1783 and, after the king dissolved the House of Commons – a unique measure in the 18th century – and Pitt won the elections, undisputed leader for the rest of the century. By the India Act 1784 he strengthened the power of the British crown against the company in India (see also East India Company). He concluded a trade treaty with France, which broke with the ruling protectionism. The growth in foreign trade made it possible to improve the destroyed government finances.

The French Revolution of 1789 radically changed the situation in Britain as well. Even there, after 1760, a middle-class radicalism had arisen with agitators such as John Wilkes. It attacked the abuse of power by the monarchy and the ruling oligarchy. The reform movement called for a parliament that better represented modern England on its way to industrial economics. A philanthropic movement also arose under the leadership of men such as Granville Sharp (1735-1813) and William Wilberforce. It required, inter alia, ban on slavery and slave trade. In 1776, Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations, which advocated for division of labor and free trade as a means of prosperity for all.

The revolution in Paris was seen by many as a victory for British ideas. But in 1790 Edmund Burke’s attack on the ideology of revolution, “Reflections on the Revolution in France”. The upheaval was a threat to the foundations of Christian society. The following year, the answer came from the opposite in Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man,” an attack on the privileged classes, which kept the masses in poverty, ignorance and unemployment.

The war effort

Britain was initially out of the Revolutionary Wars in Europe, but in 1793 France declared war. With a brief interruption in 1802–03, the huge settlement with France and Britain as the main opponent lasted for more than two decades. For a long time, Britain and its allies were under. England was threatened for some time by an invasion of the English Channel. The war caused expensive time, heavy tax pressure, huge losses in human life, disruptions in economic and social life. But all protests against the social order and the war were fought down hard. Most affected was the situation in Ireland, which had gained some autonomy in 1782 but was in reality ruled from London and by its Protestant British landlords.

Dissatisfaction broke out in 1798 in riots, which received French support. It was incubated. In 1801 Pitt succeeded in enforcing that Ireland declared its own parliament and in return got 100 seats in the British lower house, 32 in the upper house. But when Pitt failed to at the same time give the Catholics in Ireland greater civil rights, he resigned. During the war, a large part of the older Whigs had moved to his side, whereby a new and wider Tory party began to emerge. The radical Whigelang under Charles Fox constituted the opposition, which enforced the short-lived peace in Amiens in 1802. But in 1804, Pitt was back as leader of the war. Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in 1805 eliminated the threat of invasion. The following year, Pitt died.

After a few years, the Tories regained government power. The victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, won by Wellington’s British and Blücher Prussian troops, opened the way to peace. Foreign Minister Castlereagh played a key role at the Vienna Peace Congress. There, Britain’s position as a leading world power was confirmed. The empire had been expanded with new major conquests in India, incipient colonization in Australia, the acquisition of the Cape Colony at the southern tip of Africa and strong development in British Canada.

Industrial and social development

Despite the pressures of the war, the decades around 1800 were a breakthrough for industrialism in England. The Swedish Public Works Agency was nearing completion. Large channel construction already provided an efficient network for heavy transport even before railway age England. The British navy’s dominance gave the United Kingdom an increasing share of world trade. In production, the new mechanical technology broke through in important areas. In 1815, Britain exported a hundred times more cotton fabric than 1760. Through all this, the country was able to feed a larger population, albeit with the help of imported bread cereals. During the century before 1815, the population of England and Wales doubled. London became a million city. In Scotland, progress was slower, but the country was emerging from a prolonged stagnation.

The development also led to new conditions of abuse, not least in the swift and poorly erected working quarters of the new industrial areas. It is an open question whether workers’ living standards in the UK rose or fell under the new economic system.

Parliamentary reform and railways

The years after the Great War were characterized by economic depression and social unrest, which was severely suppressed by the authorities. A symbol of the contradictions became the Peterloom massacre in Manchester in 1819, when eleven protest participants were killed during a cavalry shock.

Times got better during the 1820s, and the tone was softened both within the reform movement and from the government. Many of the demands of bourgeois radicalism went back to Bentham’s philosophy: all legislation must aim for the greatest happiness for the greatest number. In doing so, each person, not the state, must decide what is best (“laissez-faire”). Expanded voting rights and modernization of the often cruel prison services were among the concrete requirements. Not only many in the Whig Party supported the reform demands. The Tories distanced themselves from the fear of revolution over the revolutionary era.

During George Canning’s time as Foreign and then Prime Minister (1822–27), the United Kingdom abandoned the alliance with the continent’s reactionary powers and supported freedom movements in Europe (Portugal, Greece) and Latin America. The trend was also reflected in domestic politics, e.g. when laws governing criminal unions were abolished (1824) and when Catholics were given the right to represent Ireland in Parliament (Catholic Emancipation 1829). Interior Minister Robert Peel reformed the law system and gave London a modern police force, after him referred to as “bobbies”.

However, it was the Whigs who implemented the first parliamentary reform. After a half-century of almost uninterrupted opposition, they formed a ministry under Lord Gray in 1830 and implemented the “Great Reform Act ” in 1832. The reform increased the electorate in England and Wales from under half a million to over 700,000, in Scotland more dramatically 4,000 to 5,000 to 65,000. Some of the middle class but not the working population gained political influence. About ninety sub-sites were transferred from predominantly agrarian southern counties such as Sussex and Cornwall to the new industrial regions, mainly Lancashire and Yorkshire.

The cautious reform policy continued during the 1830s. Slavery was abolished in the colonies (1833), the labor of children and women in industry and mines was limited. A new law on poverty increased the resources for nursing, but at the same time stated that the clientele of the poor care must have worse conditions than the worst in the open labor market. Thus, the individual’s responsibility would be emphasized.

The ongoing transformation of the business community was much more radical. The machine age was in earnest and got its most visible figure in the railroad trains. The first longer line went between Manchester and Liverpool (1830). Completely under private management, the network was expanded to more than 10,000 km in a couple of decades. Heavy freight was moved from the canals to the trains; the reasonably obsessed could travel in a whole new way.

Peel Palmerston era

Two movements demanding a change in the political system emerged during the 1830s. The Charter movement from 1838 sought universal suffrage for men and other constitutional reforms. In the issue of reform, it achieved no results, but it is thought to have prepared workers’ mobilization for later political struggles. The second movement, the Anti-Corn Law League, was carried by the middle class. It was formed at the end of the 1830s and called for the abolition of the cereal team in 1815. It had been introduced to protect English agriculture from competition with import duties, thereby increasing the cost of living. Free trade became a major point of liberalism’s program.

However, in a characteristically British way, it became a conservative statesman who took the first step towards a system change. During the 1830s, Robert Peel had laid the foundation for a conservative party and designed a program around slogans such as law and order, reforms when they became necessary, taking into account both the interests of agriculture and industry. In 1841 he became prime minister during a time of economic pressure, culminating in the growth and famine of Ireland in 1845. Also supported by Whig politicians like William Gladstone but fought by conservatives like Benjamin Disraeli, he abolished the grain tariffs (1846).

The split among the Conservatives in the customs issue most often gave the Whigliberals governmental power over the following decades. The most successful of their leaders was Lord Palmerston, Foreign Minister in a number of ministries in the 1830s and 1940s, Prime Minister (with a brief interruption) 1855-65. He became a popular figure and had good touch with Queen Victoria. She had begun her record-breaking reign in 1837 and, during her marriage to Liberal Prince Albert, became a symbol of British world power, progressive and impeccable morals.

In particular, Palmerston asserted the power and interests of the British Empire throughout the world. He was the driving force behind the opium wars against China around 1840 and 1860, the gathering of forces against Russia during the Crimean War of the 1850s, the invasion of the Sepoy uprising in India in 1858, which led to the dissolution of the East India Company in 1873, and wars in Persia and Afghanistan. All this was justified by the fact that Britain everywhere must assert the cause of freedom and civilization. Palmerston was basically conservative but maintained the liberal free trade doctrine. It gained its international breakthrough through the trade treaty between Britain and France in 1860.

Free trade, by the way, was in keeping with the industrial and commercially leading UK’s own interests. However, at the first major world exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851, signs could be discerned that Britain was losing its industrial lead. American products (plows and harvesters) as well as German competed there with British for attention.

Parliamentary duel: Disraeli against Gladstone

The one who rallied the Conservatives after the Peel split was Disraeli. As Minister of Finance in Lord Derby’s Tory Ministry and Deputy Leader, in 1867 he presented a proposal for a second parliamentary reform. It gave the city’s craftsmen and workers the right to vote. In this way, an alliance would be formed between the land-owning classes and the industrial workers, with the front facing the industrial enterprise class.

The Conservatives joined forces in a national organization and received a program formulated by Disraeli: defense of the monarchy and the church, firm cohesion within the empire, vigorous politics against European rivals, especially Russia, social reform. But the Liberals also tightened up their party and program, led by Gladstone. In 1868 he led the Liberals to a great election victory and was able to carry out a series of justice reforms.

Ireland’s Catholics and tenants improved their position. A public school charter set up elected school committees wherever the schools of the Church and Free Churches were not enough (1870). In 1874, Disraeli returned as prime minister. His foreign policy in particular was spectacular. He bought a large post of shares in the Suez Canal Company to secure the road to India, and he made Queen Victoria the Empress of India (1876).

The next parliamentary change of power came after a whirlwind campaign by Gladstone, which fired from its electoral train masses of voters. To the victory of 1880 greatly contributed a new liberal foreground, Joseph Chamberlain, who gave the Liberals a firm local organization. In 1877 a national liberal federation had been formed. Chamberlain’s radical phalanx advocated for progressive income tax, free primary education and reforms in favor of the lower strata of agriculture. Gladstone was more cautious. His ministry implemented a third parliamentary reform (1884), which extended the right to vote to the farm workers and thereby more than doubled the electoral votes. But Chamberlain’s social policy program was not implemented.

In 1885, Gladstone had to resign because of his dubious behavior regarding Britain’s role in Egypt and Sudan. But as early as the following year, he formed his third minister, whose fate became Ireland’s demand for home rule. Gladstone accepted the demands of the Irish nationalists. Some of the party under Chamberlain (the “Unionists”) opposed and began to cooperate with the Conservatives. Both home rule and Gladstone fell. The split of the Liberals then kept them almost uninterrupted from power until 1905.

The new imperialism

During the Tory regime, the empire reached its peak. In the race for Africa, Britain took the most valuable parts, while at the same time expanding its positions around India (Burma, Malaysia). The new thing in this imperialism was the enthusiasm, also within the broad layers of the people. The ideology was strongly nationalistic: the British had the task of ruling and raising “the lower races”. Economic interests took advantage of the sentiments. The international trade climate had hardened. Britain was no longer the undisputed industrial leader. In 1870, Britain produced more steel than the United States and Germany together, but in 1913 the two competitors produced seven times more than the United Kingdom.

One of the driving forces was Chamberlain, whose unionists ruled with the Conservatives under Lord Salisbury. Chamberlain wanted to secure markets for British exports. His activism led to international conflicts. In particular, he was involved in the events that led to the Boer War of 1899-1902. Britain won the war only after great losses, even by prestige in the world. In Britain too, many discovered that imperialism had both practical and ethical misconceptions. Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 and Salisbury’s assortment from the political scene in 1902 mark in that respect the end of an era. At the same time, the Conservatives, like the previous liberals, were divided.

Chamberlain wanted to keep the empire threatened by disintegration, including because of the white settlement colonies’ demands for independence, through a system of protectionist tariffs with preferences for members of the empire. His 1903 campaign for this imperial protectionism divided the conservatives but united the liberals in defense of free trade. They took over the government in 1905 with Henry Campbell Bannerman as prime minister, in 1908 followed by HH Asquith.

The rise of the Labor Party and the return of liberals

In the 1880s, intellectual socialists had formed the Fabian Society and in the 1890s a workers’ party was founded. But the political breakthrough for the labor movement came only when a committee was formed in 1900 to represent workers in the lower house. It was the beginning of the Labor Party, which in 1906 won 29 sub-seats. The party was supported by a trade union movement that in the 1880s had the character of a mass organization and in 1914 had four million members.

Labor became both a competitor for labor voters and an ally for the liberals who wanted a more radical course than during Gladstone’s time. The spokesman for such a policy was in particular Finance Minister David Lloyd George. To finance social reforms such as general old-age pension, he presented a budget including extra tax on large incomes. The upper house rejected the proposal. Only after two elections and threats of mass appointment of bulbs did the Lords give way and accepted the Parliament Act in 1911, which gave the lower house all the power over the budget and also otherwise cut the power of the upper house. Lloyd George was now able to take out unemployment and health insurance, which did not satisfy Labor but became the basis for the British welfare society. These years were also filled with struggles of a different kind. A militant women’s movement with demands for voting rights arose (seesuffragett).

The Liberal government gave South Africa self-government and sympathized with the demands of Irish home rule. Faced with rising tensions, both Catholics and Protestants were preparing for an armed settlement. The government was prepared to implement home rule when the First World War broke out.

World War I and 1920s

When Britain entered the war against Germany in 1914, it envisaged the British intervention as limited to the fleet, factories, finance and an elite corps to France’s aid on the western front. But during the long war, Britain was forced to deploy multi-million armies both from its own islands and from different parts of the empire. At least 750,000 of these were killed, millions injured, many dead.

The government, in 1915 transformed into a minister of unity, took command of business and social life like never before. In December 1916, Lloyd George became prime minister instead of Asquith, who was to blame for the bloody defeat the British suffered on the western front. Lloyd George became an extremely energetic and well-supported leader of the war effort. During the war, another step was also taken towards democracy, when the People’s Representation Act in 1918 lowered the voting age of men to 21 and gave women the right to vote from 30. (Only in 1928 was the right to vote equal to gender.)

Immediately after the ceasefire in November 1918, Britain went to election. Lloyd George’s coalition gained an overwhelming majority, the Liberal opposition Falang only a handful of mandates, while Labor garnered nearly two million votes and became the largest opposition party.

The brilliance of Lloyd George as a war leader and as a peace negotiator (in Versailles he provided Britain with damages from Germany and new areas to manage in the Middle East and Africa) quickly flared during the 1920s. Britain was hit by recession and high unemployment. The country was heavily indebted and proved to be difficult to assert its position in the world economy against primarily US and Japanese competition.

The 1922 election, when the coalition was dissolved, completed the defeat of the Liberals, and Lloyd George failed to regain his seat on the political scene. For the rest of the decade, conservative governments under Stanley Baldwin and Labor ministers under Ramsay MacDonald switched to power. Economic pressure was somewhat alleviated, but the country was still suffering from unemployment and labor market conflicts. The most dramatic episode was a coal strike, which in May 1926 was extended to a major strike. In 1929, for the first time, Labor received more subterranean seats than the Conservatives. But the minister MacDonald formed must soon deal with the effects of the Great World Depression.

1930s and World War II

In 1931, more than a fifth of union members were unemployed. Labor fragmentation in economic policy led to the government’s fall. Ramsay MacDonald then formed a unity government, where, however, the majority of his own party refused to participate. The support of the unity government gave the Conservatives an overwhelming majority in the 1931 elections and put the Labor Party in a powerless minority in Parliament. After MacDonald’s departure in 1935, the government got a Conservative leader, Stanley Baldwin.

To cope with the depression, Britain abandoned the gold coin base and devalued the pound. Conservative Finance Minister Neville Chamberlain also abandoned the free trade and introduced safeguards and imperial preferences – precisely the policy his father Joseph had tried in vain to enforce at the turn of the century. In 1937 he succeeded Baldwin as prime minister. He has gone to history for his remission policy against Hitler’s Germany, especially the 1938 Munich Agreement, which sacrificed Czechoslovakia for a peace that Chamberlain thought would be “in our time.” At the same time, however, the British armor was accelerated. In fact, throughout the 1930s, British foreign policy had been aimed at keeping Britain out of conflicts (Japan’s attack on China, Italy’s against Abyssinia, the Spanish civil war).

The financial difficulties prevented Britain from playing its old superpower role. Within the United Kingdom itself, the region (Northern England and southern Scotland) which saw industrialism born and thus founded the British dominance of the world economy had now fallen into stagnation (“depressed areas”).

The outbreak of World War II forced Britain to retighten all its economic and moral forces. After adversities in the spring of 1940 in Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium, Chamberlain had to relinquish government responsibility to Winston Churchill. This, with his speech art and huge working capacity, became the engine for a tough resistance, then for a victorious offensive. Compared to the First World War, the other fewer British soldiers cost their lives. Civilians and cities were devastated by German bombing and German rocket attacks over the English Channel.

The difficulties and the triumphs welded the people together. They thereby undermined the prevailing social hierarchy. In the middle of the war, a new and more equal society was also prepared. Economist William Beveridge prepared a report proposing a new and comprehensive social insurance system that would provide security from the cradle to the grave. But it was not Churchill’s ministry that carried out the reform. When the war in Europe was won in the spring of 1945, voters trusted Labor, led by Churchill’s deputy during the Clement Attlee war.

The welfare state and the dismantling of the empire

During the quarter century after 1945, Britain underwent profound economic and social changes. The epoch began and ended with Labor at the helm; for the longest time they ruled conservatives. But the difference in course was in reality small. The main direction of politics was agreed: a welfare state and a mixed economy under social control but under the involvement of business organizations.

Attlee’s government took decisive steps in that direction. The Beveridger Report was put into effect, and even further passed the National Health Service Act 1946, which provided free health care to everyone. The school system expanded and democratized, housing construction was forced. This led to low unemployment and rising wages. The state control over the economy during the war years was completed through nationalization of production. coal mines, railways and other transport, electricity and gas. The back of the picture was the suites after the enormous efforts of the war years: imbalances in economic dealings with the outside world, commodity shortages. The rations could only be repealed in 1954, and only US loans and from 1948 the Marshall Aid saved the UK from collapse of payments.

Under these conditions, Britain could not hold its empire positions around the world. During the Labor government, the major decommissioning process was initiated. India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) gained their independence, the mandate of Transjordan and Palestine was abandoned. The Conservative governments in the period 1951–64, with leaders after Churchill such as Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan, abolished under peaceful forms colonial rule in Malaysia and almost all of the African territories.

Nor were there significant differences regarding the view of Britain’s role in international politics. Despite the dismantling of the empire, both Labor and the Conservatives were determined to play the role of third superpower in the world of the Cold War in alliance with the United States. Attlee’s ministry decided that Britain should procure its own nuclear weapons. In 1954 Churchill announced that the United Kingdom intended to manufacture hydrogen bombs. The decisions would ensure that Britain was not even neglected by the superpowers. But during the Suez crisis of 1956, Britain faced a temporary US-Soviet agreement to withdraw from its attempt to salvage power over the Suez Canal. The superpowers no longer saw Britain as an equal.

Almost as small as in imperial politics, the 1951 transition from Labor to the conservatives in domestic politics was marked. The Tory ministers did not try to significantly disrupt the mixed economy and the welfare state. Good economic conditions and rising wealth contributed to the political calm during the 1950s. However, during the 1960s, signs emerged that the UK was still economically exhausted and in poor condition to endure international competition. A first recognition of this from the British came when Britain sought entry into the European Community, an attempt which, however, was stranded on the French President de Gaulle’s resistance in 1963.

The worse times are part of the background to the wave of unrest that hit the country at the end of the decade: ravages in the cities in response to increasing immigration from Commonwealth countries, nationalist dissatisfaction in Scotland and Wales, and, worst of all, violence on the border with the civil war in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants. Britain was forced to send troops to Northern Ireland and (1972) suspend the 1920 Northern Ireland Parliament.

Neither Harold Wilson’s Labor government nor, from 1970, a new Conservative government under Edward Heath were overcome with financial difficulties and social unrest. Stagflation prevailed, ie. high inflation and high unemployment. The international oil crisis in 1973–74 worsened the situation. Heath went into conflict with the unions for power over the social economy, but lost the 1974 election on the coup. Wilson’s second ministry took over. The year before, however, Heath had succeeded in bringing Britain into the EEC.

Epoch Thatcher

In 1976, Wilson left Labor for James Callaghan. Already during his tenure as prime minister, the turn away from the expansive decades of expansionary business and welfare policy began. The budget was tightened, and the government sought to curb the union’s wage requirements, but was met by strikes, which crippled social life (cleaning, hospital). Callaghan also suffered defeat as he tried to win the nationalists in the Celtic lands with some autonomy for Scotland and Wales; the referendums there did not provide the necessary majority. One bright spot was that the North Sea oil began to be utilized, which meant large investments, not least in Scotland. Britain’s dependence on oil imports ceased gradually.

This came too late to save the Labor government. In 1979, the Conservative government regained power. It happened under the new party leader Margaret Thatcher. She stood for a new ideology, after her called thatcherism: sharply reduced government intervention in business and social life, lower taxes, market economy, investment in the individual. During the 1980s, this policy, together with good economic conditions, led to increased productivity in industry, lower inflation, rising wealth for large groups. The price included high unemployment, finally over three million. Thatcher was named “Iron Lady” by defeating both external and internal enemies with indomitable energy. The former happened in the Falklands War, when Argentina’s attempts to annex the islands were effectively averted (1982). The victory strengthened her popularity and gave her a big rolling victory the following year. Labor received the lowest share of electoral votes since 1918, while a middle group received almost as many votes. That middle group consisted of liberals and social democrats who broke out of Labor with dissatisfaction with the left-wing course the party ruled under its leader after Callaghan, Michael Foot.

With thatcherism to the right and left-wing radicalism at Labor, political life was being polarized in a new way. The middle group, now with the party name Liberal Democratic Party, has so far failed to seriously disrupt the bipartisan system. A triumph for Thatcher was the end of a violent labor conflict in the coal mines 1984-85: unions must give up.

In 1990 the business cycle reversed, industrial productivity fell again. Thatcher faced dissatisfaction within his party, including because of her coldness towards a closer European Union, especially in the field of monetary affairs. The conservatives lost ground in public opinion, not least following a proposal to replace the old local property tax with a new municipal tax, which was considered to benefit the larger property owners. In November 1990, a palace revolution took place within the party. Thatcher had to step down but managed to get his finance minister John Major elected as successor. The Major Government withdrew the municipal tax proposal. Against a strong opposition even among the Conservatives, Major in Parliament received British approval of the Maastricht Treaty. To his general surprise, in 1992 he led the Conservatives to a new election victory.

Labor again in power

John Major’s Conservative government dissolved Parliament at the end of the maximum term in 1997. His reign was judged as competent but not inspiring and weakened by internal struggles in the European issue. In the election, the Conservatives lost big to the reformed Labor Party under the charismatic Tony Blair. Blair had liberated his party from the dogmatic socialist ballast that, throughout the post-war era, weakened its hold on the electorate. His board can largely be characterized as centered. Blair made a conscious effort to persuade the conflicting parties to the Northern Ireland conflict to form a provincial government, which they also did in November 1999. Limited self-government with governments and parliaments in Scotland and Wales has been established.

In foreign policy, the Labor government loyally followed the US-dominated NATO policy in the Balkans. In Europe, it expressed itself more favorably than its representative. At the same time, the Conservative Party underwent a crisis, which contributed to Labor winning a new grand victory in the 2001. Election, however, Blair and his government had already begun to face problems, which was accentuated in the years following the election. Northern Irish self-government was suspended in October 2002, after the IRA and members of Sinn Féin were accused of espionage. A growing popular dissatisfaction was addressed, among other things. against care queues, poorly functioning railways and forward fees at the universities. Refugee policy became increasingly difficult to handle.

European politics continued to create tensions between, and within, the two major parties. Blair stuck to an EU-friendly line, but always had a skeptical people’s opinion to deal with. In June 2003, the government decided that five criteria for membership in EMU were not met. In principle, they continued to advocate for membership, but in practice the issue was addressed in the future.

In June 2004, the government participated in the drafting of a new constitution for the EU. Blair had previously stated that the EU constitution would be put to a referendum, but this process stopped when France and the Netherlands voted against the constitution in 2005.

However, the most difficult issue for the government was Iraq. Britain participated as an ally with the United States in the attack against Iraq which began without a UN mandate in March 2003. The Labor Party was deeply divided. The government was close to losing the vote in Parliament that preceded the attack, and two cabinet members resigned in protest. People’s opinion was also negative, which was to some extent mitigated by the military successes. Soon, however, the question of the motivation for participation in the war came to the fore. Among other things, the government’s perception of Iraq’s military capabilities before the war, as well as the degree of British independence vis-à-vis the United States, has been debated. A slight reduction in the British force in Iraq has been implemented, but in the summer of 2007 there were no decisions in the direction of total withdrawal.

In the spring of 2005, Blair disbanded the lower house, and elections were held on May 5. For the first time in its history, Labor won a third consecutive victory. The government’s voter support declined, but a government-wide majority remained. In the summer of 2005, London was subjected to terrorist attacks. In response, the government announced tightening of terrorist legislation. At the same time, difficult problems remain in areas such as care, communication and education.

Blair was succeeded in June 2007 by Finance Minister Gordon Brown. He immediately carried out extensive government reform. However, no major changes took place in the Labor government’s policy, and Brown soon ended up on the defensive. strained state finances and the EU-sensitive issue, where the issue of a possible referendum on the Lisbon Treaty gave rise to major divisions even within the ruling party. The Labor government was also harmed by a scandal in which a number of lower house members, including a number of members of the Cabinet, were guilty of financial fraud with deductions and reimbursements that were outside their mandate.

The deadlock in Northern Ireland was broken in the spring of 2007. In the election held in March, the Protestant DUP became the largest party and the Catholic Sinn Féin second largest. After difficult negotiations, a coalition government dominated by DUP and Sinn Féin took office in early May. Ian Paisley (DUP) was elected Prime Minister and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness (1950–2017) became Deputy Prime Minister. This meant that the suspended self-government was reinstated. Paisley resigned in 2008 and was replaced by Peter Robinson as prime minister and DUP leader.

Great Britain in the first year of the 2010s

The 2010 parliamentary elections were dominated by the economic crisis, and both Labor and Tories and Liberal Democrats argued that they were the best suited to take responsibility for the situation. The election resulted, as many predicted, in a sharp decline for Labor, and Gordon Brown announced his departure shortly after the election. However, the Conservative Party did not get its own majority in the lower house and was therefore forced to form government together with the Liberal Democrats. Tory leader David Cameron became new prime minister and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg was named deputy prime minister. Cameron began his reign with an extensive savings package that hit hard on many public businesses. In addition to sharply reduced public spending, the savings package also contained proposals for raising retirement age, which resulted in extensive protests and strikes.

One of the Liberal Democrats’ choice was to reform Britain’s electoral system. The party managed to get through a proposal for a referendum on a new electoral system. The referendum took place in connection with the local elections in 2011, and resulted in a clear no against the proposal. Most within the Conservative Party also opposed the proposal. Combined with disagreement in some areas, this resulted in a clear break between the two government parties.

In August 2011, a wave of unrest erupted in several British metropolitan cities. Youth gangs in socially vulnerable areas in London, Birmingham and Manchester were strolling, looting shops and causing great material destruction. A number of people perished under the rattles. Prime Minister Cameron met the events with an unforgiving and harsh tone, and declared war on the street gang.


Pressed by a growing EU skeptic of the Conservative Party, David Cameron pledged to call for a referendum on continued EU membership if he was re-elected in 2015, something he also became. However, after a deal with the EU, according to which Britain could deny immigrants from other EU countries certain social benefits during a transitional period, Cameron advocated that the country stay in the EU.

In the run-up to the promised EU vote, the campaign to leave the EU was initially dominated by the UK Independence Party (UKIP). The campaign was approaching the political middle ground when two of Cameron’s allies, London’s former mayor Boris Johnson and Justice Minister Michael Gove, joined.

The referendum was held on June 23, 2016. 72 percent of the British voted: 52 percent to leave the EU and 48 to remain. The exit came to be called Brexit. Immediately after the vote, the Conservative Party was thrown into a leadership crisis when Cameron announced that he was leaving the post of party leader and thus also the Prime Minister’s post. After a quick selection process, Theresa May was appointed new party leader and on July 13 also appointed prime minister. Immediately after the referendum, UKIP leader Nigel Farage also resigned.

According to a decision by the UK’s highest court in January 2017, the UK government needed the approval of the national parliament in order to launch an exit from the EU. Parliament approved the resignation in March 2017. The government does not need any approval from the regional parliaments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to begin the resignation process.

A longer-term consequence could be that Scotland, where a majority voted to stay in the EU, may hold a new referendum on whether the country wants to remain in union with Britain or not.

With hopes of entering the EU exit negotiations with a strong mandate in the back, Theresa May announced a new election on June 8, 2017. The election turned out to be a strategic mistake as no party gained its own majority in parliament (so-called hung parliament). The Conservatives admittedly increased their voting share to 42.4 percent, which was the highest since 1983, but lost 13 seats, losing their majority in the House of Commons. The election also meant a weakened position for May, who, despite demanding her resignation, remained and formed government with the support of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, which could add the necessary mandates required for parliamentary majority.

Foreign relations between the UK and the Russian Federation deteriorated in the spring of 2018 following a March 4 murder attempt in British Salisbury against former spy Sergei Skripal (born 1951) who provided the British intelligence service with Russian information. Skripal’s daughter Julia Skripal (born 1985) was also poisoned by what was suspected to be a Russian nerve poison. Theresa May blamed the Russian Federation for involvement in the assassination attempt, charges that were rejected by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (born 1950). 23 Russian diplomats were subsequently expelled from the United Kingdom.

During the Brexit process, May’s leadership was increasingly questioned. In 2018, several ministers left the government, including the EU’s exit minister, David Davis (born 1948), and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson. In November 2018, a withdrawal agreement was finalized, but the apparent risk of the proposal being dropped in Parliament caused May to postpone the vote, scheduled to be held in December. The same month, she won a vote of no confidence among Conservative Party members after promising that she would not lead the party in the next regular parliamentary elections in 2022.

In January 2019, 432 MEPs voted against the negotiated exit agreement and only 202 for, which was the biggest loss a British government has experienced since 1924. Labor filed a statement of no confidence against the government but a majority in Parliament chose to support May, which could thus remain as Prime Minister. After the exit agreement was voted down a second time by Parliament, Theresa May resigned as party leader on June 7, 2019. However, she remained as prime minister until the end of July, when she was succeeded by Boris Johnson.

After taking over the difficult Brexit process without success, Johnson announced a new election in 2019. The electoral movement was dominated by the EU issue. Under the slogan “Get Brexit Done”, Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party sought the support of voters to implement the EU exit in accordance with the agreement negotiated by Johnson. The election was a great success for the Conservative Party and the election result, which provided a satisfactory own majority for Johnson’s party, meant that Johnson’s exit agreement could be passed through Parliament without regard to other parties or dissenters within his own party.

January 31, 2020 was set as the date of departure. Thereafter, a transitional period began until 31 December 2020. During the transitional period, the consequences of the UK EU exit will be limited for British citizens. The changes are noticeable mainly in the EU institutions, such as Parliament and the Commission.

Historical overview

1707 Realunion between England and Scotland.
1720 South Sea Company.
1721-42 Robert Walpole’s ministry.
1756-63 British wins in India and North America.
1769 James Watt gets a patent on his steam engine.
1775-83 North American War of Independence.
1793 War on France breaks out.
1801 Union with Ireland.
1815 The Vienna Peace Congress reaffirms British gains in the war against Napoleon.
1830 The Liverpool-Manchester Railway opens.
1832 Lord Gray’s parliamentary reform.
1846 Robert Peel abolishes the grain tariffs.
1851 The World Exhibition in London.
1867 The second parliamentary reform.
1876 Queen Victoria Empress of India.
about 1880–1910 The highlight of imperialism, the division of Africa.
1884 Third parliamentary reform.
1899-1902 Boer War.
1903 Joseph Chamberlain’s campaign for protectionism and empire preferences begins.
1906 Labor Party is formed.
1911 Parliamentary law breaks the power of the upper house.
1914-18 Britain participates in the First World War.
1918 David Lloyd George’s coalition government wins big election victory.
1918-28 Female voting rights are implemented.
1922 Lloyd George’s fall.
1926 Strike.
1931 Assembly government under Ramsay MacDonald.
1932 Customs duties and empire preferences are introduced.
1939-45 Britain participates in World War II.
1940 Winston Churchill succeeds Neville Chamberlain.
1946 The National Health Service Act initiates the construction of the welfare state.
1947 The dismantling of the empire begins with India’s independence and division.
1956 Suez Crisis.
1973 Britain joins the EC.
1980 The North Sea oil makes the UK independent of oil imports.
1979-90 Margaret Thatcher’s time as prime minister.
1982 Falklands War.
1994 Armistice in Northern Ireland.
1997 Labor wins with Tony Blair as party leader its biggest election victory.
1999 The Scottish Parliament.
2003 Britain participates as an ally with the United States in the attack on Iraq.
2005 For the first time, Labor wins its third consecutive election victory. Terrorist attacks happen in London.
2009 The British troops leave Iraq.
2010 The Conservatives form government together with the Liberal Democrats with David Cameron as prime minister.
2011 Youth unrest in several British cities.
2012 The Olympic Games are held in London.
2016 UK referendums for leaving the EU.
History of United Kingdom
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