David Cameron has been warned not to pander to Ukip by "obsessing" over immigration and Europe and urged to abandon his failed immigration cap.

Speaking at a conference fringe meeting, former minister Mark Field said it was time for "a calm, rational debate and a far more nuanced message" on immigration , which could not simply be about delivering on headline targets which were then missed.

He also warned that the party leadership ran the risk of losing votes amongst ethnic minorities, which make up 16% of the population and are rapidly rising, because it is traditionally seen as hostile to them due to its perceived views on immigration.

Ex-cabinet minister Owen Paterson delivered a similar message, claiming the suggestion made by Ukip defector Mark Reckless that leaving the EU would solve the UK's immigration issue should be challenged.

Sweden, Norway and Australia, none of which are in the EU and all of which had their own rules, had larger levels of immigration than the UK, he said.

He said the Tories needed to look at the problem in a global context and David Cameron should seek some specific changes, on reunification of families for example, when undertaking his planned re-negotiations with Brussels.

"As a party we are behind the curve. The great pity is we did not get into this a great deal earlier," he said.

Immigration has been one of the key issues, latched onto and often whipped up by Ukip, which the mainstream parties have struggled to get a grip on.

Labour has admitted it made a mistake with its previous policy which saw far more immigrants from Poland entering Britain that predicted. But while it has offered a new policy, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has insisted the party will not pander to Ukip's agenda.

The Tories were scared off the issue after the 2005 election campaign which focused on the issue with posters such as the infamous "Immigration. Are you thinking what I'm thinking" caption alongside a picture of David Cameron.

But with the EU's freedom of movement laws meaning the UK cannot control migration within the Union, the government is under pressure to seek changes.