Tory leadership contest: Boris Johnson promises 20,000 extra police officers if he becomes prime minister

Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson has pledged 20,000 more police officers. Credit: PA

Tory leadership favourite Boris Johnson has pledged to boost police numbers by 20,000 in three years if he becomes prime minister.

Since 2009, police numbers in England and Wales have fallen by 20,000, so Mr Johnson's pledge would bring the figure, by 2022, back in line with what it was a decade ago.

The move came as Mr Johnson faced another hustings appearance with rival Jeremy Hunt on Thursday, while Prime Minister Theresa May predicted her successor would make holding the UK together a priority.

Mr Johnson said he will swell the police service to more than 140,000 officers by mid-2022 if he wins the race for Number 10.

Police officer numbers in England and Wales have dropped by more than 20,000 since 2009 with Home Office figures showing a reduction from 144,353 to 122,395 in 2018.

In Scotland, police numbers have remained largely unchanged over the same period.

Making the announcement in The Sun newspaper, Mr Johnson said more police were needed to "end the current crime wave" across the UK.

The former mayor of London said the extra officers would help in "rounding up the leaders of the county lines drugs gangs" and help police do "proper stop and search".

He added that it was "nonsense" to suggest stop and search powers were discriminatory and that "the most loving thing we can do is take the knives off the streets".

The former Cabinet minister added that the £1.1 billion move – a similar pledge to that made by former candidate Sajid Javid – would have a particular focus on rural areas that have seen the biggest reductions in police funding in recent years.

Mr Johnson said the funds would come from the £26 billion “headroom” reserves set aside by Chancellor Philip Hammond.

The ex-mayor of London, who visited the Thames Valley Police training centre near Reading, Berkshire, on Wednesday, said: “What we are saying is that we are going to use some of the existing headroom, quite a small amount, about £1.1 billion, to put more police officers out on the street and I think that is what the public want.”

Jeremy Hunt is Boris Johnson's rival for the top job. Credit: PA

Pressed on whether he had already pledged the headroom funds for other initiatives, Mr Johnson said: “On the contrary, we have been positively frugal by comparison with a certain other campaign that I could mention.

“We are still well within the £26 billion that the Chancellor squirrelled away quite prudently, the money is going on education, a little bit on broadband – and that is already allocated – and on policing as well.”

Mr Hammond has publicly warned Mr Johnson and his rival for Downing Street, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, that a no-deal Brexit would mean the reserve funding would need to be used to deal with the aftermath of withdrawal, and would not be available for spending pledges.

Both Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt have said they would be prepared to exit the EU without a deal on October 31 if they could not get an improved agreement with Brussels.

Ahead of her last visit to Scotland as Prime Minister on Thursday, Mrs May is expected to say she is confident her successor at Number 10 will continue work to strengthen the relationship between the four nations of the United Kingdom.

The call came as Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage suggested EU withdrawal was more of a priority than the union.

He told ITV’s Peston: “Look, being an independent self-governing nation is the number one. If there were parts of the United Kingdom that didn’t wish to stay part of it that would be deeply regrettable but I just don’t believe that to be the case – I really genuinely don’t believe it.”

Nigel Farage has said Brexit is the priority, even if it causes the United Kingdom to split. Credit: PA

The comments came as Labour slumped to fourth place in a new opinion poll.

The party is backed by just 18% of voters, two points down on a week ago, according to a YouGov survey for The Times.

The Tories have climbed two points to stand at 24% while the Brexit Party is up one point to 23% and the Liberal Democrats up one to 20%.

Mr Hunt drew fire from Labour for saying he would move to see fox hunting legalised, stating a parliamentary vote would be in the next Tory manifesto.

The Foreign Secretary said fox hunting was “part of the countryside” and that he was “happy for people to do it” despite it “not particularly (being) my thing”.

Labour hit back by insisting fox hunting was a “barbaric practice”.

  • ITV will stage the first head-to-head televised debate between the leadership candidates on 9 July, hosted by Julie Etchingham