Corbyn says he would be ‘honest broker’ in Labour Brexit referendum

Jeremy Corbyn has defended his decision to remain "neutral" in a second EU referendum, saying it is a sign of "strength and maturity".

The Labour leader came under fire after disclosing he would not take sides in the proposed public vote on a new Brexit deal which the party intends to negotiate with Brussels.

The Tories poured scorn on the plan, accusing Mr Corbyn of "deciding to be indecisive" on the biggest issue facing the country.

But on an election campaign stop in Sheffield, Mr Corbyn insisted he is offering a "sensible way forward" which can finally bring the country together.

"I think being an honest broker and listening to everyone is actually a sign of strength and a sign of maturity," he said.

"My role as the Labour prime minister would be to ensure that is carried out in a fair way, that the offers put are fair, and that I will carry out the result of that referendum.

"I think this is actually a sensible way forward that actually can bring people together."

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But Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Labour leader's stance "won't wash" with the electorate.

"He has actively decided to be indecisive on the biggest issue of the day. It won't wash with voters," he told Sky News's Sophy Ridge On Saturday programme.

"I think it is an absolute disaster. You can't ask this country to be its prime minister while not having a view on the biggest issue of the day."

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said: "To me that is a total absence of leadership. Remainers in this country need a leader, not a bystander."

Labour has said if it wins the General Election on December 12, it would negotiate a new withdrawal agreement and then put that to a referendum with the option to remain in the EU on the ballot paper.

Mr Corbyn has faced repeated criticism for refusing to say which way he would vote, even though senior colleagues like shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry have said they would back Remain.

He sought to draw a line under the controversy when he appeared on BBC's Question Time on Friday, saying he would be "neutral" so he could "credibly" deliver the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.

But he faced mocking laughter from some in the studio audience as he sought to explain his position.

Shadow employment rights secretary Laura Pidcock said the party has chosen to trust the voters rather than try to dictate to them.

"I think it's the brave position to have taken because what we are saying is we trust the people to have the final say," she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"I think fundamentally though, Jeremy Corbyn has been so strong in saying he's not going to dictate to people one way or another, but we absolutely trust the people to have that final say."

Pressed on whether a Labour Brexit negotiating team would contain Leave supporters as well as Remainers, she said: "I think that there will be, as in the country, a variety of opinions around that table."

Meanwhile Mr Corbyn came under renewed pressure from the SNP which warned he would have to agree to a second referendum on Scottish independence if he was to secure their support in the event of a hung parliament after the election on December 12.

The Labour leader has been adamant he will not do deals with other parties and that an independence referendum would not be a "priority" in the early years of a Labour government.

However the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford warned he may have little choice if he wants to secure the keys to No 10.

"If the people in Scotland send a very strong group of SNP MPs to Westminster, we will be the king makers in that situation," he told the Today programme.

"He will give way on this. He will recognise that is the right thing to do. We are certainly not going to get into discussions on other matters until we have resolved that matter."

Mr Corbyn was not the only leader to endure a rough ride from the audience for the Question Time special in Sheffield.

Boris Johnson was challenged over his trustworthiness and "racist rhetoric" while Ms Swinson came under pressure for her pledge to stop Brexit if the Lib Dems win the election.