The United Kingdom was one of the three main Allies of World War II. Following the defeat of its European allies in the first year of the war, the United Kingdom continued the fight against Germany, which took form in these years with the Battle of Britain. After the victory, the UK was one of the Big Three powers that met to plan the postwar world. The war left the United Kingdom financially damaged. However, Marshall Aid and loans taken from both the United States and Canada helped the UK on the road to recovery. The immediate postwar years saw the establishment of the Welfare State, including comprehensive public health services. As a result of a shortage of workers, initial postwar policy was to bring in workers from Germany, Poland and throughout Europe. However, the Colonial office persuaded the British Government that it should offer employment to British subjects of the Commonwealth, creating a multi-ethnic Britain. Although the new postwar limits of Britain’s political role were confirmed by the Suez Crisis of 1956, the international spread of the English language meant the continuing influence of its literature and culture, while from the 1960s its popular culture also found influence abroad. Following a period of global economic slowdown and industrial strife in the 1970s, 1984 saw the inflow of substantial North Sea oil revenues and economic growth.
Inequalities between the Protestant and Catholic groups in Northern Ireland, combined with fears among unionists of the claim by the Republic of Ireland to the whole island, led to a breakout of violence in 1966. Paramilitary groups were created by both sides, and after riots in Derry in 1969 the British Army was called in to try to maintain peace. On 24 March 1972 theParliament of Northern Ireland was suspended, and Direct Rule was introduced from London.Eventually, the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed in November 1985, in which the Republic of Ireland acknowledged the United Kingdom’s rule in the North in exchange for some say in governance.Negotiations eventually led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland reflecting the terms of a peace settlement supported by most of the main political parties. The Agreement, approved by referendums in both halves of Ireland, created a new Northern Ireland Assembly and a power-sharing executive. The constitution of the Republic was amended to replace a claim it made to the territory of Northern Ireland while also acknowledging the nationalist desire for a united Ireland. The IRA and most other armed organisations ended their activities and destroyed their weaponry.
The United Kingdom was one of the 12 founding members of the European Union at its launch in 1992 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Prior to that, it had been a member of the EU’s forerunner, the European Economic Community (EEC), from 1973. The end of the 20th century saw major changes to the governance of the UK with the establishment of devolved national administrations for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales following pre-legislative referendums.
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