David Cameron has defended his tough stance on immigration as "moderate, sensible and reasonable" after he was accused by Liberal Democrat cabinet colleague Vince Cable of inflaming extremism.
The Prime Minister said it was time Britain returned to the immigration levels of the 1980s and 1990s when the number of people coming to the UK was in the "tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands".
The UK needed "good immigration, not mass immigration", he told Tory party activists in Southampton as he attacked the "woeful" welfare system which saw Britons languishing on state handouts while foreign workers snapped up new jobs.
But his speech, which comes three weeks before Conservatives and Liberal Democrats face their first major ballot box showdown since joining forces in Government, drew angry criticism from Mr Cable.
The Business Secretary, who has publicly questioned the impact of a cap on foreign entrants on businesses and universities, described the Prime Minister's comments as "very unwise".
"The reference to the tens of thousands of immigrants rather than hundreds of thousands is not part of the coalition agreement. It is Tory party policy only," he told the BBC.
"I do understand there is an election coming but talk of mass immigration risks inflaming the extremism to which he and I are both strongly opposed."
But Mr Cameron said he could not be accused of fuelling extremism and denied alienating his Lib Dem colleagues. Speaking later in Woking, he added: "Firstly, on the issue of immigration, I would say the speech I gave was extremely moderate, sensible and reasonable, and I challenge anyone to read it and come to a different conclusion.
"What I was setting out is what is Government policy - what is agreed coalition policy in terms of controlling immigration properly, which we've debated inside Government, and agreed."
The split was seized upon by Labour. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: "The Tory-led Government's immigration policy is in chaos. And now the Business Secretary has said he doesn't even agree with the policy in the first place."