Subject Material

Who are the British?

Published: 07.10.2010, Updated: 03.03.2017

Pre-reading: Search the Internet for pictures using the following phrases:

  • typically Irish
  • typically Scottish
  • typically English
  • typically Welsh

Afterwards discuss in pairs whether you found some interesting characteristics or not.

Who are the British?
Text in Brief

The inhabitants of the UK have different ethnic origins. In general, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish are descended from the Celts, who were some of the first settlers in Britain, while the English are descendents of the Angles and Saxons, who conquered the Celts. They have also been influenced by the Vikings and Normans. About 15% of the UK population (2001) has other ethnic origins. A person from Britain is called a Briton or a Brit. Only a person from England should be called an Englishman. The UK Parliament is in London, but since 1997, the Scots and the Welsh have had more power to decide on national matters themselves, in their parliaments in Edinburgh and Cardiff. Northern Ireland also has its own parliament.



Ethnic Origins

Castle from middel ages. Foto.Typically English?   

There are definite dissimilarities between the inhabitants of the United Kingdom. Firstly, their origins are different. In general, the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish are mainly descendants of the Celts, an ancient race which came from the European continent before the Roman invasion in the first century AD. The English are Anglo-Saxon descendants of the Germanic Angles and Saxons who conquered the Celts in the fifth and sixth centuries AD, but they have also been influenced by the Viking and Norman invaders who arrived later. This is the main reason why the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish have developed a particular and separate identity from the English. In addition, the 2001 census results indicate that approximately 15% of the population has other ethnic origins.

The British

Golf Car driving in wet golf course? Foto.Typically Scottish? What should you call the people of the different countries in the UK; Brits, Britons, Englishmen? The Scots, the Welsh and the Irish would not be happy about being called Englishmen. That term is only used about someone who comes from England, but the other expressions can be used about someone who comes from Great Britain or is a citizen of the UK. A Briton is the formal term, while a Brit is an abbreviation and an informal word. The British can be used if you are referring to the whole nation.


Independent Scots and Welsh

Boat with welch flag in at sea. Foto.Typically Welsh?    In 1997, Home Rule was introduced in Scotland and Wales following a referendum. This means that the Scots and the Welsh now have greater powers to decide on national matters themselves. This move towards independence is called devolution, i.e. a transfer of power from the central Parliament in London. Northern Ireland also has its own government.

Many decisions formerly taken in London are now taken in the parliaments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. The United Kingdom is less united than ever, but that may also prove to be its strength.



Tasks and Activities


The British - Quiz 



  1. What do you think the last sentence means?
  2. Does devolution strengthen or weaken England's position in the UK?
  3. Do you think the Scots and the Welsh will settle for home rule or will they go for total independence?


  1. Write a short creative story based on one of the pictures in this article, e.g. A day at the golf course.
  2. Use the last sentence as the starting point for a short text (3 paragraphs) about devolution.



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