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What is the difference between English and British?

On the surface, this looks like an innocent question easily understood and answered. However, when one starts to drill down into the details then it really starts to get complicated. Is this an ethnic or nationalistic question? Is it one of ancestry or one of the citizenry? Can a person be one and not the other? Can they look Asian, Middle Eastern or African and still be English or British or both?

England is a country, just like Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland or Ireland. Then there are the British Islands of Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey. So now, let’s break this down.

The British Isles consist of every country and Island just mentioned. Ireland, the island consists of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The British Islands consists of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey. The United Kingdom consists of Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales.

So here we go. If you are from England, as an English citizen you are English. If you are from any of the countries in the British Isles you are British. This means that only the English, from England as a citizen can be both English and British. If you are from Northern Ireland, you are British with the Northern Ireland culture. Same as the Scots and the Wales! They are British but not English.

Here is a diagram expressing the ideas stated above. It should be clearer now to even the most casual observer.


However, that is not the end of the discussion. Because all we have covered now is what the geographical locations of being English or British are. Now the question comes down to ancestry and place of birth. Suppose two people fell in love that were born and raised in England. They married and they would be British/English. However, due to a career opportunity, they moved to Ireland and had a baby born in Ireland.  Then is the newborn British only or English or both? Again, this is a geographical discussion still. We would say he is British but not English.

If you wish to discuss citizenship, it depends on the laws of the country. You are only a British citizen if you were born before or after 1983 or before 2006. Different rules apply.ii So now we are discussing citizenship and not ancestry per se.

If this same couple moved to the United States of America and their baby was born in America, the newborn would be a United States Citizen and be neither British nor English. The baby would be an American.

Now this is not to say that the English culture would not be presented to and influenced on the child no matter where the child lived or what the country of citizenship is. In fact, very high probability that the child would act more American or Irish, depending on where he/she grew up.

The same thing would be true if an Asian couple from let’s say Taiwan moved to England and had a baby. This couple then sought after and achieved British or English citizenship. The baby would be English and British with an Asian heritage. Same is true of all the Middle Eastern or even Syrian refugees flooding the United Kingdom. The offspring will be British or English or both but perhaps maintain the Middle Eastern culture. However, the question of their citizenship will depend on the British or English governing laws of citizenship.

As you can see, what might have been a very simple answer to a simple question starts to become more and more complicated as time and generations move on. Going back two or three hundred years, the British or the English would most likely look very Caucasian or European. As time moves forward, and people migrate, intermarry, claim different countries of origin and cultures, things start to get a little blurred.

Heritage and citizenships start to get much mingled. So when someone says what is the difference between the English and the British? The correct answer is that it depends on more factors in our modern world than even one hundred years ago. For example, a person from Ireland is part of the EU and is British but a person from Northern Ireland is now not part of the EU and is also British.

Now we have a question of governance creeping in after the United Kingdom Brexit decision. So as you can see trying to answer if someone is English or British is simply complicated. So what can we as humans learn from this? No matter if you are English, British, American, or Asian or African we all have to learn to get along in this wonderful place we call earth. One thing is for sure, we are all earthlings.

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  1. Can’t everyone just be referred to as Brits? (All-inclusive terms work for me.)

  2. “…if you were born before or after 1983…” Mmm, that’s an easy condition to satisfy. However, I don’t think that was what was actually meant; but I can’t think what was meant.

  3. A child born in the island of Ireland on or after 1 January 2005 is entitled to Irish citizenship if they have a British parent or a parent who is entitled to live in Northern Ireland or the Irish State without restriction on their residency.

  4. what if you can provide summary points of the article.

  5. Ok….still confused, perhaps more.

    Just one question: are the people of North Ireland british or not?

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