Kenneth Clarke, a veteran Conservative politician who served in Mrs Thatcher's cabinet in the 1980s, told The Financial Times that immigrants from the EU had made 'a positive contribution to our economy'.
Mr Clarke is a noted 'europhile'. This is increasingly rare in a Conservative politician as the party has, in recent years, become increasingly 'eurosceptic'.
Major parties vie to be tough on immigration
Also, over the last five years in particular, encouraged by anti-immigration views in the polls, politicians of all three major parties; The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, have tried to outdo each other to be seen to be 'tougher' on immigration.
This has caused considerable disquiet among some rank and file party members, particularly in the Liberal Democratic Party which has traditionally been more 'pro-immigration'.
Mr Clarke told the Financial Times that it would be impossible for the single European market to work unless workers were allowed to move freely throughout the EU. He attacked those who are calling on the government to do more to stop EU migrants from coming to the UK as 'escapists'.
'Right wing nationalist escapism' – Clarke
'The idea that you can have some fundamental debate that somehow stops all these foreigners coming here is rather typical right wing, nationalist escapism, I think', he said.
But the Prime Minister's official spokesman told journalists 'Immigration in the decade up to 2010 was allowed to be out of control. The Prime Minister has been very clear about that. It was too high'.
The spokesman said that much of this immigration had come from within the EU after the former Labour government failed to introduce controls on the free movement of Poles and other eastern Europeans when eight eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004.
The Labour government at the time predicted that 13,000 people would come each year from the new member states to the UK. In fact, more than 1.5m are thought to have come in the first year and a half.
Conservatives increasingly Eurosceptic
Mr Clarke's pro-EU stance has become increasingly unusual in a Conservative MP in recent years as younger Conservative MPs are increasingly anti-European. Many would be in favour of the UK leaving the EU if it cannot renegotiate the terms of its membership.
Mr Cameron faces pressure to oppose EU immigration not only from within his own party but also from the UK Independence Party (UKIP); a right-wing party that opposes immigration and the UK's membership of the EU.
Polls show that UKIP may come second behind Labour in the European elections to be held later this year. The government is therefore introducing policies that will 'crack down' on abuse of the benefits system by EU migrants (although the evidence suggests that EU migrants pay more tax and receive less in benefits than UK citizens).
Europhilia cost Clarke Tory leadership
Mr Clarke is one of very few notable Conservative politicians of the last thirty years who has been publicly supportive of the UK's involvement in the EU. Indeed, his 'europhile' tendencies are said to have cost him the chance to lead the Conservatives.
He stood for leadership on three occasions; in 1997, 2001 and 2005 and on each occasion right-wing, Eurosceptic MPs voted tactically to defeat him.
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