Jeremy Corbyn mounted a strong defence of immigration, as he refused to promise that the number of people entering the country would fall under a Labour government.
Answering questions from voters in a TV debate, the Labour leader said free movement of EU citizens would end after Brexit, which he vowed would be completed.
But, asked whether immigration would fall, Mr Corbyn said: “I’m not going to stand here and put a figure.
“Our Prime Minister has done that now in the third election running and has got nowhere near meeting that figure.
“If people hadn’t migrated to this country, we would have a much worse health service, education system and transport system than we have.
“The contribution that is made to your living standards and mine by the people who come here is huge.”
Mr Corbyn vowed that he would not allow companies to bring in “very low paid workers” – promising to end the “disgraceful undercutting”.
But, asked if net immigration would be lower or higher than the current annual figure of 248,000, he replied: “It certainly wouldn’t go up anymore.
“It would probably – but I don’t want to be held to this – come down. That’s a probability.”
The refusal to promise lower immigration is certain to be seized on by Labour’s opponents – but Mr Corbyn’s defence of foreign workers may delight some left-leaning voters.
During the session, in front of a Channel 4 audience, Mr Corbyn faced tough questions about whether he would “soften foreign policy” towards Isis, which he denied.
He was also asked about his past links with militant Irish republicans, but insisted he had held a “period of silence for everyone who died in Northern Ireland”.
And Mr Corbyn courted controversy by refusing to say if he ever would press the Trident nuclear button.
He was on stronger ground urging an opponent from a Labour family to think again over his opposition to higher corporation tax and VAT on private school fees.
Pointing out that the man’s children would want to own a home and go to university without paying fees, Mr Corbyn said: “We are all better off when everyone is better of. What we are proposing in this manifesto is transformational.”
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