British Empire - Legacy


Britain retains sovereignty over 14 territories outside the British Isles, which were renamed the British Overseas Territories in 2002. Some are uninhabited except for transient military or scientific personnel; the remainder are self-governing to varying degrees and are reliant on the UK for foreign relations and defence. The British government has stated its willingness to assist any Overseas Territory that wishes to proceed to independence, where that is an option. British sovereignty of several of the overseas territories is disputed by their geographical neighbours: Gibraltar is claimed by Spain, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are claimed by Argentina, and the British Indian Ocean Territory is claimed by Mauritius and Seychelles. The British Antarctic Territory is subject to overlapping claims by Argentina and Chile, while many countries do not recognise any territorial claims to Antarctica.

Most former British colonies are members of the Commonwealth, a non-political, voluntary association of equal members. Fifteen members of the Commonwealth continue to share their head of state with the UK, the Commonwealth realms.

Decades, and in some cases centuries, of British rule and emigration have left their mark on the independent nations that arose from the British Empire. The empire established the use of English in regions around the world. Today it is the primary language of up to 400 million people and is spoken by about one and a half billion as a first, second or foreign language. The spread of English from the latter half of the 20th century has been helped in part by the cultural influence of the United States, itself originally formed from British colonies. Except in Africa where nearly all the former colonies have by now adopted the presidential system, the English parliamentary system has served as the template for the governments for many former colonies, and English common law for legal systems. The British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council still serves as the highest court of appeal for several former colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific. British Protestant missionaries who fanned out across the globe often in advance of soldiers and civil servants spread the Anglican Communion to all continents. British colonial architecture, such as in churches, railway stations and government buildings, continues to stand in many cities that were once part of the British Empire. Individual and team sports developed in Britain—particularly football, cricket, lawn tennis and golf—were exported. The British choice of system of measurement, the imperial system, continues to be used in some countries in various ways. The convention of driving on the left hand side of the road has been retained in much of the former empire.

Political boundaries drawn by the British did not always reflect homogeneous ethnicities or religions, contributing to conflicts in formerly colonised areas. The British Empire was also responsible for large migrations of peoples. Millions left the British Isles, with the founding settler populations of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand coming mainly from Britain and Ireland. Tensions remain between the white settler populations of these countries and their indigenous minorities, and between settler minorities and indigenous majorities in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Settlers in Ireland from Great Britain have left their mark in the form of divided nationalist and unionist communities in Northern Ireland. Millions of people moved to and from British colonies, with large numbers of Indians emigrating to other parts of the empire, such as Malaysia and Fiji. Chinese emigration, primarily from Southern China, led to the creation of Chinese-majority Singapore and small Chinese minorities in the Caribbean. The demographics of Britain itself was changed after the Second World War owing to immigration to Britain from its former colonies.

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Famous quotes containing the word legacy:

    What is popularly called fame is nothing but an empty name and a legacy from paganism.
    Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1466–1536)