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If you have filled in the Census online today, have any knowledge of the British constitution, and were born in that part of the United Kingdom called England and Wales, you may have had a problem.  Question 9 asked "What is your country of birth?".  It gave options England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, and Elsewhere.

Since neither England nor Wales is a country under the British constitution (though Scotland and England-and-Wales both are), if you were born in England and Wales, the correct response to this question was "Elsewhere", followed by entering "United Kingdom" in the box provided.  Since my children were both born in England and Wales, that is what I did.  Firm unionists might take a slightly different view of the question from me, and reply "Elsewhere", entering "United Kingdom" on the grounds that only the United Kingdom is (on their interpretation) a country.  I consider that understandable, if slightly inaccurate, and would have thought the Census should permit it.


But the Census was not keen on permitting even me to observe constitutional proprieties here.  By choosing "Elsewhere" I was directed to Question 10, asking "If you were not born in the United Kingdom, when did you most recently arrive to live here."  Since my children most certainly were born in the United Kingdom, I attempted to leave this question blank.  But the Census insisted that I hadn't completed it, and I had to submit an answer to question 10.  That left me with no alternative, ultimately, but to enter the month of my children's birth as the month they arrived in the United Kingdom.

I know that it is common to regard England as a country and Wales as country, but it is definitely and unambiguously wrong, under the British constitution – there is no crown of Wales, and "England" is only a country in the sense of the word encompassing England and Wales – England and Wales have been one country since the 1270s.  Wales is no more a country that Cornwall or Yorkshire or London.  There are those, of course, that regard Wales as a "nation".  But being a nation – i.e. a people – is not the same thing as being a country.  Having an Assembly does not change that – London has an assembly too.  Having football and rugby teams does not change it either.

Now you may think I'm being petty, here, but I believe that things like this matter.  Suppose that the Census had said "What country were you born in?" and had offered answers "Yorkshire, Cornwall, East Midlands, West Midlands, London" etc..  Certain of you would have suspected some sinister EU plot.  I suggest that many of you would have wanted to write "Elsewhere – United Kingdom" as I did.  But the online version of the Census does not permit that.  If we simply grant, unchallenged, on forms and elsewhere that England and Wales are separate countries, then they will become so.

Well, I'm not about to allow some IT system to dissolve seven centuries of constitutional union of England and Wales unchallenged.  Surely the Census ought to permit those of us that wish to submit accurate answers to do so?

96 comments for: Andrew Lilico: Neither England nor Wales is a country, but the United Kingdom certainly is

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