There was no escaping the news yesterday that recorded net migration for 2014 was 318,000 – up from 209,000 in the year ending December 2013. This is regarded as a "statistically significant increase".
The European component stands at 178,000, or 56 percent of the total. That is up from 123,000 the previous year, the inflow driven by EU15 citizens (excluding British) and EU2 (Bulgarian and Romanian) citizens. Emigration was stable with 323,000 people leaving the UK, compared with 317,000 in the previous year.
A high proportion of the non-EU immigrants are students, but ultimately all of this category of immigrants is controllable under domestic law, without no specific restrictions imposed by the EU. This is entirely up to our own government to sort out.
For the rest, that leaves a balance of 178,000 migrants which, as Mr Farage predictably asserts, cannot be excluded unless we leave the EU and are thus [supposedly] able to control our borders.
But, where this starts to get interesting is if we imagine what might have happened, not if we had not joined the EU (or EEC as it was then), but if there had not been any Mr Monnet, and the whole EU thing had never started. What would have been the situation if there had remained just the European states, each acting independently?
Strangely enough, we can get some idea of where things were going, because in 1946 we agreed a treaty with France on the mutual abolition of visas (pictured above), allowing unrestricted travel between the two countries, with just the production of a passport. There, in effect, was a move towards the freedom of movement that we see in the current EU treaties.
The thing is, though, that the treaty explicitly states that it was "a first step towards the eventual restoration of the freedom of travel which existed between British and French territories before the war". This signifies that, with or without the Treaty of Rome, that was to come 11 years later, these two countries has already determined on freedom of movement.
Furthermore, this didn't just apply to France. In 1947 we saw a raft of treaties with different European nations, removing travel restrictions, taking us towards Europe-wide freedom of movement – and more were to come later.
With France, though, there were further developments in 1961, when it was agreed that citizens could travel between the countries just on the production of identity cards. And since UK citizens did not have ID cards, provision was made for them to travel with a British Visitor's Passport (BVP) which could be bought cheaply over the counters at most post offices.
After we had joined the EU, with effect from 1 January 1996, the BVP was withdrawn. Since then, travel for British citizens to Europe has been made more difficult. EU membership has not, in fact, made the process easier.
Without the EU, though – and the EEC before it – it is not unreasonable to assert that the independent countries of Europe would have stitched up deals between them on free movement and then progressively, on reciprocal employment rights. That was, so to speak, the direction of travel.
Then, when the Iron Curtain came down, it could hardly have been the case that the newly liberated east and central European countries would have been excluded from these deals.
Given all this, it is not entirely unreasonable to assert that freedom of movement in Europe – and the things that go with it – would have happened anyway, with or without the EU. And, as such, it will continue after we leave the EU.
The facility, though, is one thing. Scale of movement is another. And that is controlled by addressing push-pull factors. And, as it stands, the reason for the current inflow is the UK's relative economic prosperity. It is always open to our government to change that. Some are only too good at it.
Short of that, it is a fallacy to suggest we can control our borders – we can't. For a country that has visa-free agreements with its neighbours, free movement is a fact of life. But, to get results, we can manage immigration. That is an entirely different thing.