Cameron Farage
Prime Minister David Cameron and UKIP leader Nigel Farage went head to head in The ITV Referendum DebateITV/ Getty Images

David Cameron came out the more assured and smooth political operator from ITV's first live EU referendum event on 7 June, while Ukip leader Nigel Farage adopted a combative persona. The prime minister was consistently pressed on the issue of immigration from the studio audience, a sore spot for the Remain campaigner since he has consistently failed to meet his "tens of thousands" target.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) put net migration to the UK at more than 330,000 in 2015 and the issue has seen Leave gain momentum in recent opinion polls. But Cameron turned to his shock general election victory for inspiration, consistently referencing the economy and citing Brexit warnings from the likes of the IMF and the OECD.

"If we leave, we will see our economy suffer...the British thing to do is to stay in and fight for reform," the Conservative leader concluded.

But Steven Woolfe MEP, Ukip's migration spokesman, told IBTimes UK that the prime minister's performance showed he was rattled by the recent shift to Leave in the polls, branding the Remain campaign as "Project Fear".

"Nigel came out as a man that believes in Britain, who believes in the strength and opportunities the country would have leaving the EU," the Brexit campaigner added.

"He believes that we could trade with the world, have a more fair and ethical immigration policy that treats the Commonwealth and those in the EU equally compared to someone like Cameron, who kept repeating the same mantra that we are a weak country, that we would be a feeble country and we would be a lesser country by leaving the EU."

But Farage failed to have it all his during the Q&A, leading to some heated exchanges with the ITV audience. He countered the economic attacks against Leave vote by referring back to the UK's rising migration levels.

"The real truth is that population is rising at number that we need to measure quality of life and not just GDP...Population here will rise 80m by 2040," the Eurosceptic firebrand declared. "We need to build new house every 4 minutes night and day to cope with the current numbers."

There was one notable quip from Farage, who described European Commission president Jean Claude Junker as "lovely", but for the most part critics of the Ukip leader would describe his tone as shouty.

Amber Rudd, the pro-EU energy secretary, also spoke to IBTimes UK after the event. The Conservative cabinet minister claimed, like Cameron, that the economy was at heart of the Brexit debate.

"I don't think you can talk about the EU without talking about the benefits to people's everyday lives. What matters to people are jobs, are prices, are investment in our hospitals and in our schools so it is linked to the economy and it would be misleading to separate out these issues," she said.

"It's right that [the prime minister] brings it back to people's everyday lives, which is attached to the economy.

"Immigration is important, there are many other issues which are important, but the most important thing about our membership of the EU is access to this extraordinary large single-market which gives us prosperity."

The opinion polls will give the true indication of whether Cameron succeeded in overcoming the Farage threat or not, before viewers tune back into ITV on 9 June to watch the broadcaster's full EU referendum debate, featuring Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon.