The UK is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch as Head of State. Parliament is made up of three elements, the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Crown. The agreement of all three is normally required for legislation, but that of Queen Elizabeth II, as constitutional monarch, is given as a matter of course.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have varying degrees of political autonomy.
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament, and here members called ‘Members of Parliament (MP’s)’ meet to debate Bills and issues affecting the country. The House of Commons is a democratically elected body. Each MP is elected by and represents an electoral district of Britain known as a constituency. The Prime Minister is an MP, and part of the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister has executive power and is the leader of the majority party in Parliament and is ultimately responsible for all policy and decisions. The Prime Minister selects the members of their cabinet which is made up of the senior members of government.
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament, and here members called ‘Lords’ meet to debate, change Bills and scrutinise the work of the Government. Members of the House of Lords are not elected rather they either inherit their title or are appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister, or are Bishops or Archbishops, Law Lords, or Elected Hereditary Peers.
The Monarchy is the oldest institution of government. The Queen is not only Head of State, but also an important symbol of national unity.
The Queen’s full title is ‘Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith’.
In the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, the Queen is represented by a Lieutenant-Governor. The Queen is also head of state of a number of Commonwealth states, in each state, the Queen is represented by a Governor-General, appointed by her on the advice of the ministers of the country concerned and completely independent of the British Government.
The UK has many political parties, the main two being Conservative and Labour.
The present Prime Minister is Theresa May of the centre-right Conservative Party. May succeeded David Cameron in July 2016. Cameron first headed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, and then a majority Conservative government from 2014.
Only British citizens, or citizens of the Irish Republic or Commonwealth countries, living in the UK, are allowed to vote in General Parliamentary Election.
If you are a European Union citizen living in the UK, you can vote at local government, devolved legislature and European parliamentary elections.
You can register to vote at local, national and European elections, and find out more about how to vote, on the Electoral Commission website at about my vote. Information on voting and how the various UK elections work can be found on the Governments website.
In June 2016 the UK voted to leave the EU. For the UK to leave the EU it had to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which gives the two sides two years to agree the terms of the split. Theresa May triggered this process on 29 March, meaning the UK is scheduled to leave on 29 March 2019. EU law still stands in the UK until it ceases being a member. The UK will continue to abide by EU treaties and laws, but not take part in any decision-making.
Although the UK is leaving the EU the University of Leeds will maintain its reputation as international University in a compassionate, outward looking City; you can find out more on our EU referendum: information webpages.