The Prime Minister has admitted that the issue of immigration, which for years all political parties bar UKIP avoided speaking about, has not been “controlled properly”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 2, Mr Cameron was answering questions about the topic which has become a leading policy concern for voters on the doorsteps, the Telegraph reports.
Mr Cameron said Britain would be a “better, stronger country” if net migration fell to tens of thousands, a target the government has failed to meet.
His pledge to cut net migration to less than 100,000 was in tatters by the end of last year after figures revealed it had actually risen since 2010, leading to widespread criticism.
In November last year, Home Secretary Theresa May gave the clearest indication that the target would not be hit on Mr Cameron’s campaign pledge of “no ifs, no buts” to deliver on the figures, saying it was “unlikely”.
Shortly after, he delivered his long awaited speech on EU migration, telling listeners that Britain’s economic success, which is considerable when compared to many countries in the eurozone who are suffering deflation and high unemployment, was the reason that migration from the EU 28 countries alone had risen significantly to 260,000.
Referring to the promise from 2010, he said: “It was a commitment I made which I want to keep. I believe we would be a better, stronger country if we had net migration in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands.
“That is what I wanted to achieve. But the figures are very clear I have not achieved that, I want to keep going until we do achieve it because I believe it is the right thing for our country.
“Back in the 1980s when we had an open economy we had migration in the tens of thousands and immigration ceased to be for many years a political issue in our country,” he said, referring to a time when the UK had not had open borders for 500 million people from EU member states.
“I think the British public are intensely reasonable about this issue. They recognise immigration is good for the UK but they feel it hasn’t been controlled properly. I want to achieve that pledge because it would be good for our country.”
One of the fundamental freedoms of the European Union is free movement of people across borders, something Mr Cameron has encountered Iron Curtain-like resistance on from leading figures including Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“We made some progress but not as much as I would like. Immigration from outside the EU is now down to its lowest level for many years. But inside the European union migration has gone up, partly because we are creating more jobs than the rest of Europe put forward together.
“That’s why I have put forward the toughest possible welfare reforms for foreign migrants coming to Britain.”
UKIP Immigration spokesman Steven Woolfe MEP said, “The fact remains that as a country we cannot control the quantity and quality of migration into the UK, whilst we remain a borderless country inside of the EU. Figures released yesterday showing net migration levels increasing to 260,000 prove this.”
Mr Cameron is expected to outline his ideas for EU reform, of which immigration and access to benefits and services is the primary element, when Europe’s leaders meet for a summit on the 12th February.