A Conservative MP has accused European Commission vice-president Viviane Reding of "stoking up" a row over immigration, after she said that British politicians were peddling "myths" about an influx of EU migrants.
Ms Reding said it was "simply not true" that there was an "invasion of foreigners" who were stealing jobs and draining welfare and health resources.
The vice president of the European Commission, who has previously called for a United States of Europe, claimed most of the information about the EU given to the UK public was based on "myths" and warned political leaders that adopting populist tactics to win votes was "destroying the future" of Britain.
Her comments came after Polish prime minister Donald Tusk protested about David Cameron's announcement that he wants to change a system under which migrants from EU states are able to claim UK child benefit for offspring living in their home country. Mr Cameron has also provoked the ire of European employment commissioner Laszlo Andor, who warned last month that Britain risked being seen as a "nasty" country because of curbs on migrants.
During a webchat on European citizenship Ms Reding said: "Coming back to the subject which the Government of the UK has pushed to the agenda, probably in order not to make people speak about the real subjects in the UK, are this supposed invasion of foreigners coming to the UK and stealing the jobs and stealing the social security and the health money.
"The fact and figures, and we all know this, show it is simply not true and I do believe also that the British industry has made it very clear, putting the figures on the table and showing that the GDP of Britain rose by 3-4% because of the input of these working Europeans who come to Great Britain."
Asked if she was frustrated by the lack of European citizenship among Britons she replied: "I am mostly frustrated about the political leaders because what is leadership if you just try with populistic movements and populistic speech to gain votes?
"You are destroying the future of your people, actually. That is what I'm really worried upon. That is why I ask help from all the reasonable force in Great Britain in order calmly to explain what are the optimum and the worst scenarios, also to explain what Europe is about and what Europe can do and what Europe can't do, what Europe does and what Europe does not do because most of the things which are told to the people in Great Britain are myths, have nothing to do with reality."
Conservative backbencher Mark Reckless said he was "very surprised" by Ms Reding's comments.
The MP for Rochester and Strood told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: " I think the measures taken by the Government have been quite moderate and actually I think it's these European politicians - Ms Reding, her colleague Mr Andor, the Polish prime minister and foreign minister - who seem to have been stoking this thing up.
"People in this country get social security benefit, but they spend it here, but very often people coming from Poland - and perhaps now from Romania and Bulgaria - are sending money home. I think it's quite wrong that if a child is being schooled in Poland and with family there that they should be paid child benefit by the taxpayers of this country.
"The difference between the UK's laws and most of the European countries is that you have to contribute to their systems, often for quite a long period, before you can take anything out, whereas here traditionally people have been able to get social security straight away. We've put in a delay for just three months for Jobseekers Allowance, but things like tax credits - which are often very significant for people on Polish or Romanian incomes - they are able to claim straight away."
Asked if Ms Reding was right to warn against emotive language in the discussion of immigration, Mr Reckless said: " What is emotive is people from Poland, and I fear now Romania, coming to this country, (their children) being at school in Poland, and taking child benefit from this country which is several times what they can get at home.
"She is blaming the Prime Minister for this, but actually what the Prime Minister said is that he thinks this is wrong but he is not going to do anything about it unless he can get agreement from all our European partners. I think it's extraordinarily timid for the Government just to accept legal advice from Treasury lawyers saying it would be discriminatory and you can't do it under EU law. I think that's wrong.
"I think we should be much more assertive. I think we should stop paying child benefit to children who are not resident in this country. I think the Prime Minister has been extraordinarily co-operative with the EU, saying we are not going to do that unless you all agree."