Tory leadership favourite Boris Johnson has pledged to boost police numbers by 20,000 in three years if he becomes prime minister.
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.
The former Cabinet minister said 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.”
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.”
The Tories can’t be trusted on police numbers, whoever their leader is.Diane Abbott
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.”
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%.
Elsewhere, 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.