Theresa May has issued a warning to cabinet ministers calling for her to rethink her post-Brexit immigration policy.
The Prime Minister says ending free movement and allowing only skilled workers to come to the UK are priorities.
Mrs May’s plan has stalled after a number of her most senior ministers demanded she change her mind and allow some low-skilled migration after Brexit amid concerns from business leaders.
It comes ahead of a crunch week as she attempts to win support for her Brexit plan before a vote in the House of Commons.
Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark are both said to have warned the immigration policy, which is yet to be shown to the Cabinet in full, would damage British companies.
But Mrs May is said to want to push ahead with plans set out by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to allow skilled workers to enter the UK if they earn above £30,000, ending immigration of low-paid staff.
She says firms should employ young UK-born workers instead of looking for staff abroad.
Ministers had been expecting to consider the proposals at the party’s annual conference in the autumn but they have still not been published amid claims Number 10 and the Home Office cannot agree on what they should say.
A cabinet source told Sky News: “Nobody has seen anything yet, there hasn’t even been chance to have a real discussion about what the immigration bill will look like and people are getting impatient and few up with the failure to make a decision.”
Another said Mrs May and her team had pushed to bring forward an immigration bill before publishing the white paper – an unusual move thought to have been designed to avoid a row over what the UK’s long-term immigration policy will be.
Cabinet ministers have expressed concerns that under plans proposed by the MAC and backed by Mrs May low-skilled labour would end and workers would have to earn £30,000 a year to qualify to move to the UK.
One cabinet source said businesses have warned they cannot find similar workers among the UK population and would struggle to continue trading without a flow of low-skilled staff from outside the UK.
But asked about the row the Prime Minister made clear that the priorities remain ending free movement from around the EU and welcoming skilled employees.
She told reporters during a trip to Buenos Aires: “What we’re doing as a Government as a whole is looking at producing a set of immigration rules which ensure that the thing we are doing is bringing an end to Free Movement, that we recognise the needs of the economy in doing that.
“The MAC report was very clear about the way the Government should approach this; that this should be a skills-based immigration system for the future and obviously when we bring the White Paper forward we’ve already said we’ll have a skills based system we’ll be filling in the details of that.”
Her response has been interpreted as a refusal to bow to calls from her ministers to ease restrictions on low-skilled workers.
Mrs May must win the backing of her cabinet in order to bring her immigration plans before MPs in the House of Commons.
Politicians have demanded they see the proposals before the so-called meaningful vote on the deal, scheduled for 11 December.
Asked why the immigration white paper has not yet been published the Prime Minister said: “First of all we haven’t set a date for publishing the White Paper but we are in producing the White Paper, what we will be producing is an immigration system that will be able to have the whole of the rest of the world.
“Obviously up until now we’ve not be able to have those immigration rules in place for people coming from the European Union.
“We took, we looked at the advice of the immigration advisory committee, we wanted that independent advice in that, they have said they think a skills based immigration system is the way to go and that’s what we will be doing.
“Obviously we are aware, we’re talking to business about their needs, that’s one of the things the Bank did as well and so I believe we can produce an immigration system that crucially would be bringing free movement to an end, that enable us to have one system for people coming from across the world and that is skills based and recognises the needs of our economy.”
She denied businesses would struggle with the new system, adding that young British workers can take the place of other forms of labour.