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Brexit understandable : Who is actually going - Great Britain or the United Kingdom?

The time has come: Almost four years after the Brexit referendum and then lengthy negotiations and political back and forth, the British will leave the European Union on Friday. But who is actually going - Great Britain or the United Kingdom?

In Brexit reporting and in general usage, the two terms are often used synonymously. But that is not entirely true. Because there are differences.

Great Britain is a geographical name. This means the larger of the British Isles, i.e. the island with England, Wales and Scotland.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the other hand is the union of states of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If you only speak of Great Britain you exclude Northern Ireland, because the country is located on the smaller of the two British Isles.

The confusion surrounding the British is not new. "In the past, England was often referred to when referring to the United Kingdom“, Says the historian Dominik Geppert from the University of Potsdam. Not surprisingly, England is the most populous and economically strong country in the United Kingdom. At least there is now so much sensitivity to use the term Great Britain, he says.

The British Isles encompass both Great Britain and the United Kingdom - and all of the smaller islands around them, such as the Isle of Man or the Scottish Isles.

This term also includes Ireland, which is not part of the United Kingdom - or is no longer part of it. Because what belongs to the United Kingdom has changed again and again over the centuries.

Brexit: The English and Welsh monarchies were closely linked

The personal union between England and Wales began in the 13th century. In a personal union, sovereign states combine by being ruled by a common monarch. To this day, the English heir to the throne bears the title "Prince of Wales".

In the 16th century, Wales was formally incorporated into the Kingdom of England with the Act of Union by Henry VIII, a Tudor. “The Tudors have Welsh roots - so the English monarchy was closely linked to the Welsh monarchy,” explains Geppert.

"There is a traditional resistance to English dominance in Scotland"

In 1603 the English Kingdom brought Scotland with them - again through a personal union. The relationship with the Scots, however, turned out to be much more tense. One reason for this, according to Geppert, is the "traditional resistance to English dominance" in Scotland. When the unification of England, Wales and Scotland was also decided beyond the level of the Crown, the United Kingdom could actually be equated geographically with Great Britain.

But it goes on. In 1801 Ireland becomes part of the United Kingdom - both Great Britain and the Isle of Ireland are now part of the Union. The problem: the Irish are predominantly Catholic. You feel colonized by England. With the Easter Rising, Ireland finally split off from the United Kingdom after the First World War. Only Northern Ireland, with a predominantly Protestant population, remains.

The Union Flag: symbol for the union of countries

The history of the United Kingdom can be traced back to the British flag, the so-called "Union Jack".

But the flag is hoisted less and less, observes Geppert. He has been dealing with the British for 20 years and has seen clear nationalization tendencies. Instead of the Union Flag, he sees more and more the St. George's Cross or the Scottish national flag - a need for autonomy?

In any case, the Scots repeatedly quarrel with their membership of the United Kingdom. So far, however, the only area where the four countries do not play together is football: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have their own national teams.

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