A huge majority of voters want David Cameron to defy the EU and maintain controls on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants.
In an explosive Daily Mail survey, eight out of ten said they did not want citizens of the two countries to be handed free access to UK jobs from January 1.
Ministers warn Britain will be taken to court if it ignores the Brussels edict to let the migrants in.
But the threat of big fines from the European Court of Justice was brushed off by almost two thirds of the public.
They said that – even if it meant legal sanctions – the Prime Minister should keep the restrictions in place to ‘serve the national interest’. And 80 per cent of voters say Westminster should retain the final say over who enters the country.
Only 5 per cent think Brussels should be in charge. An overwhelming 85 per cent said migration was putting too much pressure on schools, hospitals and housing.
The findings of the Harris poll, conducted earlier this week, will heap further pressure on Downing Street to stop a potentially major influx from Romania and Bulgaria.
Although officials have refused to predict how many will come, the Migrationwatch think-tank puts the figure as high as 70,000 a year.
That would almost certainly wreck Mr Cameron’s promise to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’.
In a devastating blow for the Premier, our poll reveals that only 11 per cent trust the Tories on immigration – six percentage points less than Labour and 11 less than UKIP. But, in a stark indictment of the whole political class, a disturbing 44 per cent have no trust in any party on this most serious of issues.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly pointed to the fact that net migration – the difference between the number of people arriving in the UK, and those leaving – is down by a third, to 176,000, since 2010.
But, in the Mail’s survey, 80 per cent said this figure was still too many.
The findings are scathing about Labour’s record in office. Two thirds of the public agreed with former Labour home secretary Jack Straw’s statement that throwing open the doors to Poles and other East Europeans in May 2004 had been a ‘spectacular mistake’.
An astonishing 79 per cent of the voters said they had not been properly consulted over the open door immigration policies pursued by the last government, which added 2.5million to the UK’s population.
Asked if the impact of mass immigration had been good for British society as a whole, only 19 per cent said yes, while 64 per cent said no. Four in ten said immigration had changed their community for the worse, compared with only 11 per cent who said it was better.
Seventy-six per cent say it has affected the ability of young Britons to get a job.
Yet, in results which will alarm Tory strategists, Ed Miliband’s party scores better than Mr Cameron’s on immigration policy.
Asked who they trust most, 22 per cent of voters picked UKIP, 17 per cent Labour, 11 per cent the Tories, and 4 per cent the Lib Dems. The poll shows older people are particularly concerned about net migration: 72 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds said it was too high compared with more than 90 per cent of those aged over 55.
An extraordinary 95 per cent of those in this older age group were in favour of continuing restrictions after January 1.
Mr Cameron will now find himself under intense pressure from worried Tory MPs to act over Romania and Bulgaria.
The two countries joined the EU in 2007, but were subject to so-called transitional controls.
This meant only the self-employed and those given permits to carry out low-skilled agricultural work, such as fruit picking, could join the UK jobs market.
Ministers have kept the transitional controls in place for the maximum period. But, under EU rules, the arrangements must be lifted on January 1. Any failure to do so would be considered a breach of the free movement directive – a founding principle of the EU.
Britain would most likely face heavy fines, but the European Court of Justice – the EU’s enforcement arm – is notoriously slow moving.
Tory MPs believe the 2015 general election may even have passed before a verdict is handed down.
Mr Cameron’s main problem with defying Brussels is that he would face ferocious protests from his Liberal Democrat partners.
He would also face objections from the Foreign Office which wants the UK to honour its international treaty obligations. On Wednesday, immigration minister Mark Harper insisted Britain will not face a flood of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria when controls lapse in the New Year.
But he insisted he was ‘not complacent’ about potential problems and pointed to measures to limit access to social housing and benefits.
He rejected comparisons between next year’s changes and 2004 – when Labour opened up the borders to eight Eastern European countries – including Poland. Then, officials predicted just 13,000 migrants a year would come but more than a million have arrived.
Mr Harper said there was a ‘big difference’ between then and now because migrants will be lured to Germany by the jobs there and to other countries with larger Romanian and Bulgarian populations.
Concerns over the likely scale of immigration from the two countries – whose combined population is 29million – this week prompted Tory backbenchers to demand the controls be extended.
Nigel Mills, the MP for Amber Valley, proposed extending them until the end of 2018. But Mr Harper said this would be a breach of EU treaties signed by the last Labour government – and would lead to court action. He said: ‘It simply isn’t legally possible. The accession treaties only give us the ability – and the other eight counties with transitional controls – to extend them to the end of the year.
‘The only way you could legally extend them is if you amended the accession treaties, which you would have to do by unanimity including getting the agreement of Romania and Bulgaria and I don’t think that is at all possible.’ This week it was revealed that colleges have been hit with a surge in applications from Romanians and Bulgarians wanting taxpayer-funded loans and grants to study in this country.
A total of 5,000 individuals – or one in six of all applicants to vocational courses in England – were from the two countries. Many will be entitled to up to £10,000 in taxpayer-funded grants and loans.
Fears of fraud prompted ministers to put all applications from the EU on hold. Last night, a Number 10 spokesman said: ‘For more than a decade Labour failed to control immigration and allowed the number of migrants coming to Britain to soar to record highs.
‘This Government has taken decisive steps to clear up Labour’s mess. We have cut net migration by a third in just over three years, closed dozens of bogus colleges and imposed a cap on migrant workers from outside the EU.’
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