Jeremy Corbyn has insisted Labour never committed to writing off historic student debt in the run-up to the General Election.
The Labour leader was questioned by Andrew Marr on what exactly he meant when he said he would “deal” with student debt.
During the election, the Islington North MP told NME: “I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively.”
Corbyn responded: “It was in the context of an interview with the New Musical Express (NME) and an interview I also did with the Independent in which I pointed out there was a massive overhanging debt that many people dealt with.
“I recognised it was a huge burden, I did not make a commitment we would write it off because I couldn’t at that stage.
“I pointed out we had written the manifesto in a short space of time because it was a surprise election but that we would look at ways of reducing that debt burden, recognising quite a lot of it is not going to be collected anyway and ry and reduce that.
“But the point we absolutely made was that we would abolish the student debt from the time we were elected and were we now in government, we’d be taking measures to ensure that the 2017-18 students did not pay fees or we would reimburse them if we couldn’t get the legislation through in time.”
Marr pressed him: “But if you were a young voter and you heard those words ‘I will deal with it’, you might have thought ‘Jeremy Corbyn is going to relieve me of my debt’ - but you won’t.”
Corbyn said Labour never pledged to write off student debt completely because there were unsure how large the burden was.
He said: “What I said was we would deal with it by trying to reduce the burden of it, we never said we would completely abolish because we were unaware of the size of it at that time.
“John McDonnell has established a working party to look at this policy and we will be making a statement on it which will establish what our plans are for the future.”
Earlier this week, Tory universities minister Jo Johnson launched a scathing attack on Corbyn over pre-election promises on tuition fees, saying they have “unravelled like an old jumper”.
“It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that students and graduates have been the victim of a cynical bait-and-switch,” Johnson wrote in a blog on HuffPost UK.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner came under fire from Conservative politicians in the House after she said Labour had “no plans” to wipe tuition fee debt for graduates, arguing that it never promised to do so.
She responded to her critics by saying: “A cynic might say that they’re wilfully misrepresenting my party’s policies. We have never said that we would simply write off all existing debt.
“They refer to comments made by (Mr Corbyn) and I would remind them that he said we would look at steps to reduce or eliminate the debt burden.”
Meanwhile, Rayner said thousands of students had been left uncertain about the amount they would be expected to pay for their degrees thanks to Tory policy.
In April, universities were given permission to increase tuition fees year-on-year in line with inflation until 2020, with students set to be charged £9,250 from September.