Labour does not rule out backing continued freedom of movement when Britain quits the European Union, Jeremy Corbyn said.
The Opposition leader used a major speech on Brexit to set out plans to prevent cheap migrant labour from the EU undercutting British workers.
Speaking in Peterborough, Mr Corbyn said the party supports reasonable management of migration as part of the exit settlement and is “not wedded” to the principle of freedom of movement.
But he told supporters that he did not want comments, which were viewed as an attempt to clarify the party’s position after months of confusion, to be “misinterpreted”.
“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out,” he said.
Mr Corbyn earlier came under fire for refusing to commit to a reduction in immigration after Brexit.
Mr Corbyn said closing cheap labour loopholes and strengthening employment laws would “probably” reduce the number of migrant workers in the UK.
He said: “Labour supports fair rules and the reasonable management of migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU, while putting jobs and living standards first in the negotiations.
“At the same time, taking action against undercutting of pay and conditions, closing down cheap labour loopholes, banning exclusive advertising of jobs abroad and strengthening workplace protections would have the effect probably of reducing numbers of EU migrant workers in the most deregulated sectors, regardless of the final Brexit deal.”
Following his speech, Mr Corbyn was asked whether he regarded it as desirable to reduce immigration.
He replied: “As far as I’m concerned, we have migration into this country and the migrants who’ve come here have made an enormous effort and worked very hard.
“Without them, our health service wouldn’t survive. Without them, education would be in trouble. Without them, transport would be in trouble.
“We have done well as a country out of those who have come to make their homes here.
“The numbers vary from year to year.
“In five years’ time, quite possibly, we will be outside the European Union.
“We are still going to have to be trading with the EU.
“We also have an ageing population, which does require a younger workforce.”
Asked whether he would rule out visas for EU workers post-Brexit, Mr Corbyn said: “Nothing is ruled out at this stage.”