The twentieth century saw Britain having to redefine its place in the world. At the beginning of the century, it commanded a world-wide empire as the foremost global power. The UK remains an economic and military power, with considerable political and cultural influence around the world. More recently, the UK has suffered a deep economic slump and high public debt as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, which revealed its over-reliance on easy credit, domestic consumption and rising house prices.
Efforts to rein in the public debt – one of the developed world’s highest – has led to deep cuts to welfare, government services and the military, prompting concern about social equality and a possible loss of international influence.
Despite being a major member of the EU, the country is not part of the eurozone, and looks unlikely to join. Opposition to the EU’s common currency was boosted by a feeling that the pound had softened the blow of the financial crisis and spared the UK the eurozone crisis.
The UK is ethnically diverse, partly as a legacy of empire. Lately, the country has been struggling with issues revolving around multiculturalism, immigration and national identity.
Concerns about terrorism and Islamist radicalism heightened after the suicide bomb attacks on London’s transport network in 2005.
There has also been a debate about immigration. Some advocate tough policies on limiting immigration, others attempt to put the case for it as a positive force.
One of the more recent trends in migration has been the arrival of workers from the new EU member states in Eastern Europe.