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A hot topic about Wales is whether or not it’s a real country or if it’s just a state or principality of the UK. This debate was fuelled by Richard Osmond who outright said it’s not a country on pointless1 (source: The Metro, 2019). So, what’s the answer?
Wales is a constituent country which forms part of the United Kingdom because it has its own government and national identity. However, it is not a sovereign country because the UK government still has authority when it comes to law-making.
In the rest of this article, we’ll discuss the different types of countries, see who recognises Wales as a country and whether it’s a principality, nation, or state too.
Is Wales a Country?
Let’s begin by looking at the definition of a country, this is widely agreed to be ‘an area of land that is controlled by its own government’2 (source: Definition of a Country, Britannica). Another key factor that distinguishes a country is having a population with ‘distinct political characteristics’3 (source: Wikipedia). To be considered a country, doesn’t mean you have to be sovereign.
As Wales has its own government and a distinct national identity, it is considered to be a country and is one of the four constituent countries that makes up the United Kingdom.
Is Wales a Sovereign Nation?
So, we know that Wales is a type of country, but the question many people are asking is whether it’s an independent county?
There are two types of countries:
- Sovereign – A sovereign country has ultimate control and authority over the decision-making of the country4 (source: Definition of Sovereignty, Britannica).
- Constituent – A constituent country or nation is part of a larger country and does not have total control over its decision making.
Although Wales has its own government and can make laws on a range of topics, the UK government in London still has the power to legislate on any topic including policing, justice, social security and business law5 (source: Welsh Government).
So, whilst we can consider Wales to be a country, it is not an independent country (also known as a sovereign nation) because it does not have ultimate authority over its law-making. Instead, we can consider Wales to be a constituent country.
This is why you won’t find Wales listed in the British government’s own list of recognized countries because it only includes sovereign nations.
The relationship between Wales and the United Kingdom is similar to that of Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland which are also considered to be constituent countries but not sovereign nations.
We can also see similar relationships elsewhere in the world, for example, Greenland is a constituent country that is part of Demark and Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are all constituent countries as part of the Netherlands6 (source: Wikipedia).
Who Recognises Wales as a Country?
There are different opinions around the world as to whether Wales should be recognised independently of the UK or not. Usually, political organisations will recognise the UK whereas many sporting organizations recognise each constituent country of the UK independently.
Below is a list of different organisations and whether they recognise Wales as a country or not:
- The Commonwealth Games recognise Wales as a country
- The United Nations does not recognise Wales as a country as they only accept sovereign states
- FIFA recognises Wales as a country7 (source: FIFA)
- The Olympics does not recognise Wales as a country
- The World Health Organization does not recognise Wales as a country8 (source: World Health Organization)
- The EU does not recognise Wales as a country
Will Wales Ever Be Independent Again?
Wales has not been independent since 1282. But we saw in Scotland during the 2014 independence referendum, there is a growing demand for welsh independence. However, it is still small compared to Scotland.
The main political party that promotes independence is Plaid Cymru, however, they only hold 3 out of a possible 40 welsh seats in the UK parliament. Although opinion polls suggest that up to a third of Welsh people could support independence if a referendum were held9 (source: Daily Post, 2020)
Right now, Welsh independence seems unlikely, but if Scotland makes the jump first it could be a real possibility in future.
Is Wales a State?
A ‘state’ can have multiple meanings which causes difficulty in answering this question. Broadly speaking, Wales is referred to as a constituent country rather than a state because it has a strong national identity and a government with law-making skills.
However, constituent countries and states are very similar as they are both parts of a larger sovereign country. So in this sense, you could also refer to Wales as a state.
Is Wales a Principality?
For many centuries Wales was a principality because it was ruled by a prince, although the prince swore allegiance to the Crown of England. This came to an end in 1536 when the first Laws in Wales Act came into force which united England and Wales under the same laws and the rule of King Henry VIII.
Although there is still a Prince of Wales, this is largely a ceremonial role as the prince does not have any authority when it comes to law-making, therefore Wales is not considered to be a principality anymore.
Is Wales a Nation?
Yes, Wales is a nation which is another word used interchangeably for a country.
Does Wales Belong to England?
No, Wales does not belong to England because both Wales and England are constituent countries that are part of the United Kingdom (UK). Technically, both England and Wales belong to the UK although the UK government is based in England which is why some people may get confused.
Kieren is the founder and editor-in-chief of Wales Guidebook. Originally from rural Mid-Wales, he has lived all over the country from Cardiff to Wrexham. A true Welshman, Kieren created this site to share his passion for Wales and help others discover this beautiful country.