The United Kingdom is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It has a long history as a major player in international affairs and fulfils an important role in the EU, UN and Nato. 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. Two world wars and the end of empire diminished its role, but the UK remains a major economic and military power, with considerable political and cultural influence around the world.
Britain was the world's first industrialised country. Its economy remains one of the largest, but it has for many years been based on service industries rather than on manufacturing. Despite being a major member of the EU, the country is not part of the euro zone, and the question of whether it will join any time soon appears to have receded for the moment. The government has said a series of economic criteria must be met before the issue can be put to a referendum. In recent years the UK has taken steps to devolve powers to Scotland and Wales. The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff opened in 1999, and the possibility of devolution for the English regions has also been discussed. In Northern Ireland, after decades of violent conflict, the Good Friday agreement of 1998 led to a new assembly with devolved powers, bringing hopes of lasting peace. The assembly was suspended in 2002 amid a row over alleged IRA activities. Its suspension was to last for three and a half years. In a bid to restart the political process and after consultations with Dublin, the UK passed legislation paving the way for the recall of the Northern Ireland Assembly in May 2006. But assembly leaders missed a November deadline to form a power-sharing executive. Assembly elections in the following March led to the eventual swearing-in of the leaders of the power-sharing government on 8 May 2007, ending five years of direct rule from London.
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. This is against a background of concerns about terrorism and political and religious radicalism, heightened after the suicide bomb attacks on London's transport network in 2005. Some politicians and commentators say a stronger sense of shared British values is needed to foster integration within a mixed society. And while 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.
The UK has been at the forefront of youth culture since the heyday of the Beatles and Rolling Stones in the 1960s. It has a rich literary heritage encompassing the works of English writers such as William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, Scot Robert Burns, Welshman Dylan Thomas and Northern Irishman Seamus Heaney. Traditional music has deep roots across the UK, which has also produced classical composers from Henry Purcell in the Baroque period to Benjamin Britten in the 20th century.
Doing business in the UK
The British are rather formal. Many from the older generation still prefer to work with people and companies they know or who are known to their associates. Younger businesspeople do not need long-standing personal relationships before they do business with people and do not require an intermediary to make business introductions. Nonetheless, networking and relationship building are often key to long-term business success. Rank is respected and businesspeople prefer to deal with people at their level. If at all possible, include an elder statesman on your team as he/she will present the aura of authority that is necessary to good business relationships in many companies.
British communication styles
The British have an interesting mix of communication styles encompassing both understatement and direct communication. Many older businesspeople or those from the 'upper class' rely heavily upon formal use of established protocol. Most British are masters of understatement and do not use effusive language. If anything, they have a marked tendency to qualify their statements with such as 'perhaps' or 'it could be'. When communicating with people they see as equal to themselves in rank or class, the British are direct, but modest. If communicating with someone they know well, their style may be more informal, although they will still be reserved.
Punctuality is a very British trait. It is especially important in business situations. In most cases, the people you are meeting will be on time. Always call if you will be even 5 minutes later than agreed. If you are kept waiting a few minutes, do not make an issue of it. How meetings are conducted is often determined by the composition of people attending. If everyone is at the same level, there is generally a free flow of ideas and opinions. If there is a senior ranking person in the room, that person will do most of the speaking. In general, meetings will be rather formal and always have a clearly defined purpose, which may include an agenda. There will be a brief amount of small talk before getting down to the business at hand. If you make a presentation, avoid making exaggerated claims. Make certain your presentation and any materials provided appear professional and well thought out. Be prepared to back up your claims with facts and figures. The British rely on facts, rather than emotions, to make decisions. Maintain eye contact and a few feet of personal space. After a meeting, send a letter summarising what was decided and the next steps to be taken.