Angela Merkel has warned David Cameron that his drive to curb immigration within the European Union is pushing Britain towards exiting the EU, according to German news reports.
Der Spiegel news magazine quoted sources within the German chancellor’s office and German foreign ministry as saying that she feared Britain was approaching “the point of no return”.
Mrs Merkel is said to have made clear she will withdraw her support for Britain’s continued EU membership if Mr Cameron insists on pressing for measures which would undermine the principle of the free movement of labour.
The Prime Minister, who is under pressure to tighten Britain’s immigration controls to counter the rise of Ukip, has already torn up one proposal to impose quotas on low-skilled EU migrants in the face of German opposition, according to The Sunday Times.
The newspaper said that Mr Cameron was now looking at plan to stretch the EU rules “to their limits” in order to ban migrants who do not have job and to deport those who are unable to support themselves after three months.
The Prime Minister was said to want to be able to present a “German-compliant” plan to re-negotiate the terms of Britain’s membership ahead of the Conservatives’ promised in/out referendum by the end of 2017.
Downing Street would not comment on the reports – which are likely to heighten concerns within the Tory ranks ahead of this month’s crunch by-election is Rochester and Strood where the party is desperate to prevent a second seat falling to Ukip.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister will do what is right for Britain, as he has repeatedly made clear.”
Mr Cameron is unlikely to have welcomed comments by arch pro-European former cabinet minister Ken Clarke who dismissed Ukip as an “extreme right-wing protest party” and said that free movement of labour was “absolutely essential” to the working of the single market.
“If you’re going to have a sensible single market, if we want to compete with the Americans and the Chinese and so on and modern world, we need the free movement of labour,” he told BBC1’s Sunday Politics.
“All our companies, multinational companies, will go spare if you start inferring with that.”