Ken Clarke
Clarke is a former Conservative cabinet minister under David Cameron, John Major and Margaret ThatcherReuters

The UK Prime Minister's controversial plan to limit immigration into Britain from the European Union by introducing a quota system would damage the country's economy, according to Ken Clarke.

The former Conservative Party cabinet minister told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that his party should demonstrate that it is "strong, sensible party that does sensible things on immigration".

"We have to demonstrate that we are a strong, sensible party that does sensible things on immigration because there isn't a politician who isn't in favour of controlling immigration," Clarke said.

"What we mustn't do is start competing with ignorance and bigotry, and we mustn't do damage to our economy by opposing restrictions on people we need to come here in an international economy."

"There's no point in putting some arbitrary figure on it – we need people here who are contributing to our economy."

Clarke's comments come after David Cameron stressed that the government needed to "address people's concerns about immigration".

"I'm very clear about who the boss is, about who I answer to and it's the British people," the Prime Minister said.

"They want this issue fixed, they are not being unreasonable about it, and I will fix it."

Cameron was hitting back at European Commission President Jose Barroso, who claimed immigration quotas by EU member states would be against the "fundamental principle" of the free movement of labour within the economic region.

The Conservative Party is under pressure from Ukip after Nigel Farage's party secured its first MP and has convinced Tory councillors and senior politicians to defect to the Eurosceptic and anti-mass immigration party.

"As a friend of Britain looking from the outside, I remember well Margaret Thatcher," Clarke said.

"I worked with her when I was young, as deputy foreign minister of Portugal.

"The Conservative sentiment was a sentiment of openness. So I am surprised when I see so many Conservative politicians surrendering to the arguments of Ukip."

The latest opinion poll from YouGov for The Sun revealed that Labour (33%) still lead the Conservatives (31%) ahead of the 2015 General Election next may.