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Jeremy Corbyn was hit by a growing tuition fees crisis today after it emerged that one of his shadow ministers promised before the election that “every existing student will have all their debts wiped off” if Labour gained power.
The Labour leader has been accused of backtracking on scrapping the existing debt of students run up due to tuition fees of up to £9,000-a-year.
Mr Corbyn insists he did not make a promise to axe this debt which is estimated to total more than £100 billion and scrapping it would blow a huge hole in Labour’s financial plans.
However, now an election campaign video has emerged of shadow justice minister Imran Hussain make a firm pledge on student debt.
He said: “Just this morning Jeremy Corbyn has announced that the tuition fees will be abolished straight away from September if there’s a Labour government, and that we will bring back immediately EMA and also that every existing student will have all their debts wiped off.”
Shadow Minister for Public Health Sharon Hodgson also tweeted on June 2: “Jeremy Corbyn: Labour could write off historic student debts| All those in early 20’s with student debt #VoteLabour”
The Conservatives seized on these comments to demand an apology from Mr Corbyn over tuition fees.
Schools standards minister Nick Gibb said: “Day by day Labour’s top team are being found out for their betrayal over student debt. Their irresponsible offers to students are unravelling before our eyes.
“It is becoming abundantly clear that Labour’s election pledges were pure fantasy and they cannot be trusted to keep their promises – will they now step forward and apologise to this country’s young voters?”
However, Mr Corbyn’s aides stressed that he had never promised to scrap the student tuition fee debt mountain.
A source close to the Labour leader stressed: “Imran was mistaken. That was not our policy.”
The controversy centres on an interview that Mr Corbyn did with NME before the election on existing debts which students have to pay off for many years.
He said: “I’m looking at ways we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing the debt burden.
“I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage. I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly.”
He added: “I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.”
Mr Corbyn recently stressed that this was not a firm commitment and that he did not know the total student debt bill at the time.
A Labour spokesman added: “Labour’s manifesto pledged to scrap tuition fees from 2018 and write off the first year of fees for students starting university this September, so that no one is priced out of getting a degree.
“During the campaign, we also said we would protect graduates from above inflation interest rate rises on existing debt and look for ways to reduce this debt burden in future.”
However, the row risks escalating and if it is seen as a U-turn it could damage Labour as the Liberal Democrats’ back tracking on raising tuition fees did.
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