Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed that he would take a “neutral stance” in a future Brexit referendum, after facing mounting pressure in recent days to say which side he will take.
Labour’s policy is to negotiate a new Brexit deal within three months of coming to power – and then to put that deal to a referendum within six months.
Corbyn had previously declined to say how he would campaign, suggesting Labour’s position would be determined at a special conference once a new Brexit deal has been negotiated.
But when he was asked about it in a special BBC Question Time programme on Friday, the Labour leader revealed that he would take a “neutral stance”.
“One, we negotiate a credible deal with the European Union,” Corbyn said. “Secondly, we will put that, alongside remain in a referendum. My role, and the role of our government will be to ensure that that referendum is held in a fair atmosphere, and we will abide by the result of it.
“And I will adopt as prime minister, if I am at the time, a neutral stance so that I can credibly carry out the results of that to bring out communities and country together, rather than continuing in endless debate about the EU and Brexit.
Several members of the shadow cabinet, including John McDonnell and Sir Keir Starmer, have previously said they will campaign for remain; but others, including Jon Trickett, have said they would be minded to support a “Labour Brexit”.
Corbyn has faced questions over how he would campaign, including from Boris Johnson in Tuesday’s head-to-head leaders’ debate. An article he wrote for the Guardian in September was seen as the strongest sign yet he would stay neutral, but he has until now refused to confirm his stance.
The four main party leaders – Johnson, Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon and Jo Swinson – each face half an hour of audience questions in a special edition of Question Time, hosted by Fiona Bruce.
Before the event kicked off, a large crowd of supporters gathered to welcome Corbyn. The Labour leader stopped to speak to them, brandishing a copy of the party’s manifesto.
But once in the studio, Corbyn faced a tough grilling from the audience, facing questions on issues including antisemitism, nationalisation and Brexit.
Scottish National party leader Nicola Sturgeon, who spoke after Corbyn, confirmed that she would be prepared to offer her party’s support to a Labour government on an informal basis, in exchange for the confirmation that Labour would allow Scotland to hold another independence referendum.
Corbyn had earlier said he would not support a poll in the first two or more years of the next parliament – and that he would first like the chance to implement the £100bn increase in investment Labour has promised for Scotland.
But Sturgeon suggested he might change his mind, faced with the prospect of being able to implement his programme for government.
“Having heard Jeremy Corbyn, do you think he’s going to walk away from the chance to end austerity, to protect the NHS, to stop universal credit, simply because he wants, for a couple of years, to prevent Scotland to have the right to self-determination?” she said.
“Jeremy Corbyn supports the right of self-determination for almost every other country in the world. I’m not sure he’s going to compromise the chance to have a Labour government on that issue.”
The Tories quickly seized on her remarks, retweeting a mock up of a poster with Corbyn peeking out of Sturgeon’s pocket — an echo of a similar poster used against Ed Miliband in the 2015 general election campaign.