The Prime Minister is on a collision course with the European Union over his plans to restrict free movement.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the outgoing president of the European Commission, warned that the proposals would never be accepted by other member states.
Speaking to the Andrew Marr show yesterday, Mr Barroso said that the right of EU citizens to seek work in any country they chose was a fundamental principle of the union
“There is no possibility of the UK reducing the number of immigrants from EU to the UK. It is not up for negotiation,” he said.
“I don’t think you can say there is a huge problem with immigration – there are two million British citizens in the rest of the EU.
“In principle arbitrary caps seem to me in contradiction with EU laws. That is quite clear from my point of view.”
David Cameron is considering introducing a limit on the number of low-skilled immigrants allowed to enter the UK from Europe.
If he remains Prime Minister after next May’s General Election, changes to immigration policy are likely to be among his key demands when he attempts to re-negotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership.
In spite of Mr Barroso’s comments, No 10 has stood firm and today insisted that the status quo is not acceptable.
Mr Cameron may believe his chances of hammering out a new deal will be helped by the fact that Mr Barroso’s term of office comes to an end this month.
There are also precedents for Britain winning the argument in spite of opposition from its European neighbours – most notably Margaret Thatcher negotiating a budget rebate in the 1980s and her successor John Major managing to secure an opt-out from joining the single currency.