Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said he “draws the line” against moves to curb immigration from the EU.
Writing in The Sunday Times, Mr Clegg said curbs on migrants’ benefit rights were “sensible” but plans for a cap of 75,000 on EU migrants were “pointless”.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s president has criticised UK politicians who “play on people’s fears” over immigration.
Restrictions on movement of Bulgarians and Romanians within the EU are due to end at the beginning of next month.
Measures to make EU migrants to the UK wait three months before they are eligible for out-of-work benefits and stop them claiming housing benefit until they have a job are planned by the coalition government.
These are intended to be in place by 1 January when restrictions on the movement on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals in the EU are lifted.
Mr Clegg said: “These are sensible and reasonable reforms that will help preserve the UK’s open and welcoming nature.”
He said if such rules were applied to Britons living abroad, they would be considered fair.
“But this is where we draw the line,” he went on. “Talk of arbitrary caps on the number of EU nationals is as pointless as it is distracting.”
Bulgarian President Plevneliev
President Plevneliev warned that Britain’s reputation could be damaged
He added: “Sticking a big no-entry sign on the cliffs of Dover may be politically popular, but at a huge economic cost.
“What would happen if tonight every European living in the UK boarded a ship or plane and went home?
“Are we really that keen to see the back of German lawyers, Dutch accountants or Finnish engineers? Do we want the NHS to fall over and the City of London to grind to a halt?”
Such a cap could lead to tit-for-tat restrictions on Britons living abroad, he said, and Britain would be “one step closer to the exit” from the EU, putting economic recovery at risk.
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev told the Observer that Britain should stay true to its legacy as “a great global power that pioneered integration” and not play on people’s fears.
“Isolating Britain and damaging Britain’s reputation is not the right history to write,” he said.
He added: “Bulgarian people are raising a lot of questions today about the democratic, tolerant and humane British society. Are we in Great Britain today writing a history of a switch to isolation, nationalism and short-term political approaches?
“Of course, Great Britain will make its planning and will take its decisions. But some of them could be right, some of them could be wrong. Some of them are bold and some of them are, I would say, not long-term orientated decisions.”
He said politicians should be “ready to say the inconvenient truth” and “fight for unpleasant but necessary decisions”