Geography has played a major role in the United Kingdom’s history, including the present. Its island-nation status has afforded it a unique role among major European powers throughout the centuries, and continues to enable it to stand apart from the European Union, to which it belongs, when it chooses while engaging in the E.U.’s policies when it suits London.
As a series of islands – and the focus here is on Great Britain to the exclusion of former colonies like English-speaking Canada and Australia – the U.K. evolved as a maritime power with major territorial acquisitions during its imperial phase. Its maritime tradition enabled it to emerge as the greatest naval power in history at its peak, while helping to protect it against foreign invasions. Indeed, its survival during the Battle of Britain in 1940 owed a great deal to Germany’s inability to mount an invasion of the British Isles (excepting the German occupation of the Channel Islands, of course), enabling the Royal Air Force to hold off its German counterpart while the British Army was free to battle the German Army in North Africa.
The United Kingdom’s geography, as noted, continues to play an important role in its conduct of foreign policy. Sometimes setting itself apart from mainland Europe – and its refusal to adopt the Euro as its currency, as other European Union members did, was a highly visible manifestation of that separatist attitude – the U.K. has frequently played the role of spoiler to French and German ambitions for greater levels of unification.
While geography has played a major role in the history of the United Kingdom, it has not helped it to cement the level of internal unification that the English in particular had long envisioned. Scotland remains solidly independent in its internal psyche, and may well choose to secede from the United Kingdom at some point in the not too distant future, leaving England and Wales to their own devises, with Northern Ireland in a state of flux. Its island-nation status, however, has done much to shape the U.K.’s character, and it remains stubbornly independent despite the efforts of continental European powers to advance the cause of European unification.