Jeremy Corbyn has said he would remain neutral in a future Brexit referendum if Labour wins power.
He told a BBC Question Time leaders’ special he would not campaign for Leave or Remain so it would allow him, as prime minister, to “credibly” carry out what the voters then decide.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson later asked how Mr Corbyn could be “indifferent” on such a vital issue.
But Mr Johnson faced questions of his own about whether he could be trusted.
The prime minister was the fourth party leader to answer the audience’s questions, with the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson also taking to the stage for 30 minutes each on Friday evening.
Pressed on whether politicians should be relied upon to tell the truth, Mr Johnson said this was “absolutely vital”.
While trust was a crucial issue for voters, he argued the biggest threat to public confidence was the “corrosive” effect of Parliament trying to block Brexit.
He said the Labour, SNP and Lib Dem leaders wanted to “basically frustrate” the result of the 2016 referendum, which the public had been waiting more than three years to see delivered, by “absurdly” holding another one.
He said that the Labour leader’s views seemed to have “mutated” and Mr Corbyn’s ambition to negotiate an improved agreement would be totally undermined if he did not care whether the public backed it or not.
“He is now going to be neutral on the deal he proposes to do. I don’t see how he can do a deal when he is going to be neutral or indifferent.”
Corbyn says ‘you heard it here first’ on Brexit stance
The four leaders all appeared individually and faced a mixture of audience questions and follow-up questions from host Fiona Bruce at the event in Sheffield.
The first to take the stage, Mr Corbyn, faced tough questioning about his economic polices, with one member of the audience suggesting his “reckless socialist” agenda “terrified” him and his family.
The Labour leader said his plans to take Royal Mail, the railways, the water industry and broadband delivery into public ownership had been “set out” very clearly and were aimed at “delivering an economy that works for all”.
He insisted business had “nothing to be frightened of” by his plans, saying his “fully prepared and costed manifesto” would bring the country together and help reduce inequality.
Mr Corbyn was criticised for what several audience members suggested was a lack of clarity on whether he personally would support or oppose Brexit in a new referendum in 2020, with one questioner saying: “Why would anyone vote for Labour without knowing the answer to that question?”
Mr Corbyn said it was “entirely reasonable” to put the question back to the people as another referendum represented a sensible middle ground between those who wanted to cancel Brexit entirely and those backing the PM’s deal.
Asked to clarify his own position, he said: “I will adopt, if I am prime minister at the time, a neutral stance so I can credibly carry out the results of that to bring our communities and countries together rather than continuing an endless debate.”
He later told the audience: “You heard it here first on Question Time.”
In doing this, he would follow in the footsteps of Harold Wilson – who allowed Labour ministers to campaign on both sides in the 1975 Common Market referendum and took a back seat during the campaign – although he personally backed staying in.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Health Secretary Matt Hancock attacked Mr Corbyn’s position, saying he had “decided to be indecisive” and it “won’t wash with the voters”.
But shadow employment rights secretary Laura Pidcock defended Mr Corbyn’s stance as “brave”.
“What we are saying is we trust the people to have the final say,” she told Today.
Questioned on the issue of tackling incidents of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, Mr Corbyn was accused of failing to intervene when one of his own Jewish MPs, Ruth Smeeth, was heckled by an activist at a party event in 2016.
Mr Corbyn said Ms Smeeth and others had “suffered terrible abuse”. He insisted that all forms of racism and misogyny were “unacceptable” and party activists who had abused MPs had been disciplined or expelled.__BBC