Britain must cut immigration dramatically to ease social strain, Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday, telling supporters the influx of newcomers was putting serious pressure on some communities.
Cameron said large-scale immigration had caused "discomfort and disjointedness" in some parts of the country.
"I want to get the policy right: good immigration, not mass immigration," he said.
The comments were strongly criticized by a member of Cameron's own coalition government, who said they could inflame extremism.
Cameron said in a speech to members of his Conservative Party that Britain had "benefited immeasurably" from immigration, but that the number of newcomers had become too high. He said 2.2 million more people came to live in Britain than left between 1997 and 2009, putting "real pressure on communities up and down the country."
He said the government would reduce net immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands a year by limiting the number of work visas granted to people from outside the European Union and cracking down on bogus language schools.
Businesses and universities have complained that capping immigration could stop them recruiting the best staff and students from around the world.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said Cameron's speech reflected Conservative Party policy and was not supported by Cable's Liberal Democrats.
The two parties have governed jointly since a national election in May, but are running against one another for local and regional elections next month.
"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," Cable said.
"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," he added.