The United Kingdom's Prominent Role in the Global Economy

The United Kingdom's Prominent Role in the Global Economy

5 Min.

In 2022, the United Kingdom boasts a gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.07 trillion, securing its place as the sixth-largest economy worldwide. The country's services sector, including finance, retail, and entertainment, is responsible for 80% of its economic activity. Manufacturing and construction make up approximately 16% of its economic output. The European Union is the U.K.'s primary trading partner, with 42% of exports in 2020. The United States is the U.K.'s most significant trading partner.


In 2022, the United Kingdom boasted a GDP of $3.07 trillion, positioning it as the world's sixth-largest economy, following the U.S., China, Japan, Germany, and India. Comprising England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the U.K. sustains a high quality of life and boasts a diversified economy. Key sectors contributing significantly to its GDP encompass services, manufacturing, construction, and tourism. With a populace surpassing 67 million, the United Kingdom maintains its robust economic standing.

Industries That Contribute to the Economy

The United Kingdom's economic landscape sees the services sector at the forefront, accounting for 80% of gross value added (GVA), akin to GDP, as the U.K. Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported. This extensive sector encompasses finance, business services, and consumer-focused industries such as retail, food and beverage, and entertainment. Manufacturing and construction are the other two significant contributors, making up 10% and 6%, respectively, to the nation's total economic output, while agriculture contributes approximately 0.67%.

In 2020, GVA leaders in the U.K. included government, health, and education sectors, as per the Office of National Statistics (ONS) data. Additionally, distribution, transport, hospitality, restaurant, real estate, and production industries played notable roles in bolstering the economy.

The tourism sector also shines as a lucrative player in the U.K. economy. In 2022, international visitors spent £26.5 billion, equivalent to $34.3 billion, on travel and tourism within the U.K., marking a substantial increase from the previous year, mainly due to removing pandemic-related travel restrictions, as reported by the ONS.

British Exports in 2023 

Over the 12 months leading up to April 2023, the United Kingdom's exports reached a substantial value of £847 billion. Notably, the most valuable specified goods exported included mechanical power generators, crude oil, and automobiles. Furthermore, within the realm of services, financial services emerged as the frontrunner, generating a total of £73.8 billion in exports over the same 12-month period. Following closely were travel services and telecoms, computer, and information services as the second and third top contributors, respectively. It's worth noting that the European Union (EU) stands as the largest single trading partner for the U.K., accounting for 42% of exports in 2020.

Brexit's Influence on the U.K. Economy 

The U.K.'s departure from the European Union (EU), known as "Brexit," officially commenced on January 31, 2020, following the June 2016 referendum. Since then, several governmental bodies and non-governmental organizations have assessed its detrimental effect on the U.K. economy.

However, determining the precise impact has been challenging due to subsequent events such as the pandemic, energy crises, and economic turbulence. Various estimates of Brexit's long-term economic consequences, compiled by the independent Institute for Government in 2018, yielded a wide range of projections. These estimates, influenced by different research assumptions, varied from an 18% decline to a 7% gain in U.K. economic output resulting from Brexit. Public sentiment reflects a predominantly negative perception, with two-thirds of the British population believing Brexit harmed the economy, while only one in five leave voters perceive a positive impact.

Research conducted by the Centre for European Reform, a pro-EU/anti-Brexit think tank funded by multinational corporations, suggests that the decision to leave the EU will cost the U.K. £40 billion annually as of 2022. Their analysis also indicates that Brexit led to a 5.5% reduction in GDP and an 11% decline in potential investment.

Deputy director John Springford asserts, "The Brexit hit has inevitably led to tax increases, as a slower-growing economy requires higher taxation to sustain public services and benefits. Without Brexit, most of the tax hikes announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March 2022 would have been unnecessary." While economist Jonathan Portes acknowledges the negative repercussions of Brexit on the economy, his estimation in July 2023 suggests that the impact on U.K. GDP is closer to 2-3%.

The U.K.'s Office for Budget Responsibility, a government agency, shares a pessimistic outlook. Their latest forecasts from March 2023 anticipate that Brexit will ultimately reduce exports and imports by approximately 15% and long-term productivity by around 4%.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the U.K. Economy 

The United Kingdom's response to the COVID-19 pandemic garnered attention due to its initial strategy of protecting the vulnerable while aiming for herd immunity. However, a significant shift occurred following influential model projections from the Imperial College of London. Consequently, the U.K. swiftly imposed stringent national lockdown measures, lasting from March to July 2020, with subsequent lockdowns extending until mid-2021.

During this period, the U.K. witnessed a substantial economic downturn, with GDP plummeting by a historic 20.4% in the second quarter of 2020 and declining by 22.1% over the first half of that year. These declines predominantly affected sectors subjected to government restrictions, such as services, production, and construction. The prolonged duration of the lockdowns contributed to the U.K.'s more significant economic contraction compared to other nations.

The Assets of the British Royal Family 

A significant portion of the Windsors' wealth is tied to their property holdings, primarily managed by The Crown Estate, a corporate entity established by parliamentary legislation. This estate is overseen by an independent council, and the Windsors do not retain all the generated revenue. Instead, they contribute the income to the British government, receiving a Sovereign Grant from British taxpayers in return. This grant, amounting to 25% of The Crown Estate's profits, covers property maintenance and various royal responsibilities.


As the world's sixth-largest economy, the United Kingdom holds a prominent position on the global economic stage. Notably, tourism, manufacturing, retail, and financial services are pivotal pillars of this thriving economy, contributing significantly to its prosperity.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
United Kingdom (UK)
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