With this and other stress points, we can be assured that immigration will become a factor in any referendum in a way that it did not become in 1975. The prospect of further migration could well be a pivotal factor, driving voters into the "out" camp.
Perversely, any temporary deal along the lines of EEA membership will not solve the immigration problem, as "freedom of movement" is very much part of the Single Market package that goes with the EEA.
Furthermore, with an estimated two million British citizens resident in EU countries, we are not in a position to exclude nationals from other EU member states, without causing serious disruption to the lives of our own expats. Many of those retain voting rights in the UK and, with the resident immigrant population, their votes could tilt the balance in a referendum.
This notwithstanding, the highest immigration
of any ethnic group into the UK comes from India, beating the Irish, the Polish and even Pakistanis.
Non-EU immigration will be used by the europhiles as evidence that immigration from EU members states is of lesser significance, although even migration from this sources is significantly affected by EU law.
Especially significant is Directive 2003/86/EC
on family reunification, which accounts for 17 percent
of UK immigration. Significantly, permits for non-EU families as a percentage of total legal immigration in 2011 amounted to 13 percent.
The problem here, though, will be that family reunification is a right recognised in the European Convention of Human Rights, which presumably would continue to apply even if we leave the European Union. Unless there is an explicit commitment to abrogate this convention, leaving the EU will not resolve anything.
And that epitomises the broader issue. As Norway has found
, being outside the EU does not automatically solve the "immigrant problem". Domestic law, and the elimination of "pull" factors, such as an over-generous benefit system, have an impact on inwards migration, while some of the issues have to be dealt with on a global level
, with the United Nations centre stage.
Thus, while immigration might become a major topic in any forthcoming referendum, the issues are not straightforward and there are arguments on both sides of the divide. A post-EU policy needs to be devised and it is moot, in the shorter term at least, whether departure from the EU, per se
, will afford any relief at all.
At best, leaving the EU will be only one of a package of measures that will enable us eventually to regain control of our borders. In any campaign, therefore, we need to manage expectations, or the immigration "card" could backfire on us.