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The term 'United Kingdom' does not have an exact definition, but where it is used in a Statute, it is taken to have the meaning provided by the Interpretation act (1978). This act states that the United Kingdom consists of Great Britain (including Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland. It does not include the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man except insofar as the Statute in question is concerned with British Nationality. However, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are represented by the UK Government in international affairs and to that extent are part of the UK. The same is true of the remaining British dependent territories.
Since the passage of the Welsh Language Act (1967), Statutes that refer to 'England' are not taken to include Wales, although this often was the case previously.
Wales has been formally unified with England, at least in the eyes of English governments, since the 15th Century; it was under English military control for several centuries prior to this. Integration of Wales and England increased between the 16th and 19th centuries, but Welsh independence started to be asserted more forcefully in the early 20th century, a process which has continued until the present day. Recently, of course, there has been some Devolution of authority to the Welsh Assembly, with increasing administrative indepedence. This has been accompanied by increasing recognition of the Welsh language.
Scotland maintained independence from England for longer than Wales, and developed its own legal and constitutional system during the Middle Ages. Unification was first achieved at a practical level when a marriage between the royal families of England and Scotland made James I/VI king of both countries. There was, however, little legal unification and, when James I/VI was deposed in 1688, the Scottish Parliament tried to reassert indepenence. Formal integration was agreed by the Treaty of Union in 1707, which guaranteed continuity for certain Scottish institutions. There have always been strong claims for renewed independence within Scotland, and this has been recognized by the recent (re)formation of a Scottish Parliament with legislative powers.
The island of Ireland came under English influence from the 13th century, and the title 'Lord of Ireland' and later 'King of Ireland' was frequently held by an englishman. The island retained its own legislature, with varying degrees of independence from England. In the late 18th century a Treaty of Union was agreed along similar lines as the Union with Scotland, but with fewer concessions to Irish Independence that had been allowed to Scotland. The Union was never particularly robust, and during the early 20th century there was a good deal of unrest and occasional outbreaks of overt civil war within the island; northern states tended to favour increased integration with England, while southern states did not. Therefore, in 1920 the British Government formally partitioned the island into southern and northern territories, each with its own parliament, both subordinate to England. The nationlist elements in the south, represented by the Sinn Fein movement, refused to accept this state of affairs, and in 1922 the English Government recognized the southern territory as the Irish Free State, a self-governing province within the United Kingdom. This was not enough to satisfy the nationalists, who continued to press for full independence. The UK formally recognized the new Republic of Ireland in 1949. Its position with respect to the UK is somewhat odd; while it is recognized as fully independent, its citizens do tend to enjoy rights of access to the UK in excess of those of other foreign countries. In the meantime, Northern Ireland has retained its status as part of the UK. Between 1920 and 1972 the province retained its own Parliament and courts, but it became increasingly difficult for the UK Government to regulate it. In 1972 redirect government from England was re-imposed. There followed various attempts to reinstate local rule, with varying degrees of success. At the time of writing civil unrest and terrorist activity are less in evidence than they have been for several decades, but progress towards a final settlement between the various factions remains slow.