Jeremy Corbyn has said he does not believe immigration to the United Kingdom is too high but that measures to tackle the undercutting of wages would bring down the number.
The Labour leader is due to give his first speech of the year this afternoon in which he is expected to declare “Britain can be better off after Brexit”.
However he appears to have already backtracked on suggestions he is prepared to take a tougher line on immigration.
In his speech, Corbyn is due to say Labour is “not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle”.
The line, released overnight led many to conclude he had decided to relax his previous staunch commitment to free movement - as many Labour MPs have been pressing him to do.
But in an interview with the BBC this morning, Corbyn was asked whether he thought immigration levels were too high. “No,” he replied.
Corbyn said Labour wanted to tackle the “exploitation” of workers by UK companies which drove down wages. He said this could result in reduced immigration even if it was not the goal.
“It probably means there would be fewer [migrants] but I think we should also recognise that there is a massive contribution made to our health service, education and manufacturing industry from people all over Europe,” he said. “People come to this country, work hard, pay their taxes and are part of our community.”
European leaders have said that in order to remain a member of the single market the UK would also need to accept free movement of people.
Theresa May has hinted she is preparing for a so-called hard Brexit by suggesting controlling immigration will be her priority in negotiations with Brussels.
Corbyn’s speech in Peterborough has been billed as a reboot of his leadership - with the Labour leader said to be hoping to rebrand himself as more of a left-wing populist taking lessons from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
This morning evidence of the approach came as Corbyn suggested he would impose a cap on the maximum wage people could earn in order to tackle inequality.