The United Kingdom, or Great Britain, is a parliamentary democracy which falls under the remit of a constitutional monarchy.
The monarchy, at present embodied by Queen Elizabeth II, who does not have executive powers, however, a Prime Minister needs the Queen’s approval to form a government or to dissolve parliament in the run up to an election.
The monarchy also has to give a seal of approval to legislation that is passed in the House of Commons – the lower house of parliament. When legislation is voted through the lower house, it is then put to the House of Lords for approval and it is then rubber stamped by the monarchy.
The parliamentary system is largely dominated by the two major political parties, the Conservatives – known as the Tories – and the Labour Party. In recent years, the Liberal Democrat Party emerged as a strong third party and even formed a coalition in government with David Cameron’s Conservative Party in 2010. The Scottish National Party surged in popularity in the run up to the independence referendum, but it recently lost a lot of support following the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union – a decision colloquially known as Brexit.
There are a number of fringe parties including the Greens and others that are based in Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own parliament and Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own assemblies. The judiciary are completely independent of the government and the highest court is the Supreme Court.
In matters of defence and foreign policy, it is the central government of the United Kingdom that makes the decisions, although these decisions are often the subject of heated debate in the Houses of Parliament and local assemblies. While debates are frequent and put the government under scrutiny, there is usually broad support for matters of national security.