Budget rows, referendum pledges, Ukip on the rise â€¦ is Britain heading for an EU exit? It would certainly be a messy divorce after 44 years. But what would it mean for our politics, prosperity and cultural life? In a rare uncalculating moment, Boris Johnson wrote last year that, if Britain finally ended its â€œsterile debateâ€ over Europe by leaving the EU, it would quickly discover â€œthat most of our problems are not caused by Brussels, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills and a culture of easy gratification and under-investmentâ€. How true, but that discovery would not be the end of the matter if David Cameronâ€™s promised in/out referendum in 2017 resulted in a Brexit majority. The euphoria that half the population of Scotland came close to feeling in their own independence referendum last September would rapidly dissipate as familiar problems resurfaced and new ones popped up. The country would be divided â€“ literally so if Scotland took its cue to do a Scexit and stay in the EU, generating tensions in Northern Ireland, though probably not in Wales. The defeated minority would be frightened and sullen, assorted dreamers and zealots would rush to start creating their vision of a restored Merrie England. Or of an offshore free enterprise hub, the Hong Kong of the Atlantic, as much a fantasy as the socialist and green republic that would be sought by others. Everyone would claim copyright on Blakeâ€™s Jerusalem and political parties would scramble to adjust to the new realities. After 44 years of half-hearted membership, there would be no going back, but a lot of time-consuming unbundling would need urgent attention, with new treaties negotiated to project essential national interests, much as the famously independent Swiss and Norwegians spend time negotiating in Brussels. If the Scottish parallel is any guide, Ukip would enjoy an SNP-style surge of popularity, claiming the credit for forcing the Tories â€“ would Cameron still be leader, or would Mayor Johnson move in for the kill? â€“ to make good their pledges. Whether they recommended yes or no in 2017, the Tories would be seen to have messed things up: neither Cameron nor George Osborne actually want to leave. It is hard to see such a vote doing Labour, the pro-EU party since its mid-80s U-turn, much good. Ukipâ€™s new recruits are becoming more sophisticated, but Nigel (â€œMineâ€™s a pintâ€) Farage is not likely to be up to the task: the technocrats in Whitehall and perhaps the City would have to sort out the messy, bitter divorce as best they could. None of this would be happening in a vacuum. For 400 years, Europe dominated world affairs, but that phase is over. China will soon be as uninterested as it was when European merchants tried to sell it things it didnâ€™t want in the 16th century. The US, busy with China, will turn away from its enfeebled allies, even Britain, no longer its door to Europe. Only Russia will retain an urgent geopolitical interest and, on current trends, it will not be benign. In time, Britain and its component nations will settle down, probably to a lower standard of living, at least for a while. It depends whether Londonâ€™s huge financial services sector decides to stay put or decamp to Frankfurt, Dublin or Zurich. That depends on how unstable Brexit Britainâ€™s politics become â€“ and what its tax regime is. Insular and xenophobic, or outward-looking and confident? Fingers will be tightly crossed. And how will Europe regard â€œPerfidious Albionâ€™sâ€ latest double-cross, its retreat from cooperation and integration to the offshore island? With disappointment and anger, most likely. British critics of the way the EU runs â€“ its courts, its imperfect single market and bureaucracy, its recession-dogged single currency â€“ make some excellent points as well as some self-deluded ones. Will the Brussels elite say, â€œGosh, youâ€™re rightâ€ after a Brexit vote? Or pull up their own drawbridge and drive hard economic bargains with the quitters in London? The latter option is surely more likely. Whatever they say, a British departure will be deeply damaging to the EUâ€™s reputation and self-esteem, unbalancing the north/south, left/right, statist/free enterprise scales. â€œDonâ€™t leave us alone with the French,â€ some German politicians whisper as Paris again ducks structural economic reform so long as its bond market commands enough confidence to borrow more. The EU was constructed, mainly by Frenchmen, to hide German strength and French weakness. It is not hard to imagine the project starting to break up under the pressures generated by a British departureâ€¦ nationalist and Eurosceptic parties of both left and right â€“ even ultra-respectable Germany has them now â€“ will assert more selfish short-term interest. Already Germanyâ€™s austere Bundesbank is preventing Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, doing more to ease deflationary pressures and unemployment in ways the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve have been free to do. Huge sacrifices have been made to keep the EU project going â€“ for reasons that constantly need remembering, even in the centenary year of 1914 â€“ but they have been sustained by hope and optimism for a better future. If a British departure punctures that fragile belief, Europe could slide back to where it was at the height of its imperial glory: divided, feuding, dominated by a single power, Germany, in breach of four centuries of British foreign policy, but threatened by another â€“ Russia (or anyone else who comes along). Only this time there will be no imperial glory, not much money and less defence. Boris Johnsonâ€™s â€œsterile debateâ€ would be over, but the problems he identified would remain. MW Economics: Voters may go with their gut â€“ should Britain control its own destiny or be part of a bigger family? Itâ€™s the spring of 2017 and preparations for Britainâ€™s in-out European Union referendum are in full swing. The side campaigning for exit says that Britain will not just survive but thrive once it is unshackled from Brussels. The side campaigning to stay part of the EU says the country will be poorer and jobs will be lost. When the big day comes, the recent poor performance of the eurozone economies proves crucial. Voters are unimpressed by the argument that it is in Britainâ€™s interests to remain part of an economic bloc that has suffered a decade of stagnation and double-digit joblessness, and vote to leave. What happens next is already a matter of great contention. The CBI says It appears your Web browser is not configured to display PDF files. No worries, just click here to download the PDF file.