BORIS Johnson has said building more ships will "strengthen the Union in every sense" ahead of his plan to unveil the biggest programme of investment in the UK’s armed forces since the Cold War.

The Tory Government is to pledge an additional £16.5 billion to the Ministry of Defence over the course of this parliament, more than its manifesto commitment of a 0.5% real terms increase each year.

READ MORE: Military spending: Campaigners slam Tories' 'inappropriate' £16.5bn MoD boost

The Prime Minister said the international situation is “now more perilous and intensely competitive” than at any time since the Cold War, as he outlined the need to protect the UK’s “lifelines”.

The Prime Minister told the Commons: “Shipping lanes, a functioning internet, safe air corridors, reliable under-sea cables, and tranquillity in distant straits.

“This pandemic has offered a taste of what happens when our most fundamental needs are suddenly in question.”

He went on: "Nations are racing to master this new doctrine of warfare and our investment is designed to place Britain among the winners. The returns will go far beyond our armed forces, from aerospace to autonomous vehicles – these technologies have a vast array of civilian applications, opening up new visions of economic progress, creating 10,000 jobs every year – 40,000 in total, levelling up across our country and reinforcing our Union.

"We're going to use defence spending to soar Britain's position as the foremost naval power in Europe, taking forward our plans for eight type 26 and five type 21 frigates and support ships to supply our carriers.

"This will spur a renaissance of British shipbuilding across the UK in Glasgow and Rosyth, Belfast, Appledore and Birkenhead. It will guarantee jobs and illuminate the benefits of the Union in the white light of the arcbuilder's torch. 

"If there is one policy that strengthens the UK in every possible sense, it is buiding more ships for the Royal Navy."

Johnson said the UK could “hope for the best” and ignore the threat of terrorism and hostile states, but claimed: “We might get away with it for a while before calamity strikes, as it surely would, or we can accept that our lifelines must be protected but we’re content in our island and leave the task to our friends.

“My starting point is that either of those options would be an abdication of the first duty of government to defend our people.

“My choice, and I hope it will carry every member of the House, is Britain must be true to our history, to stand alongside our allies, sharing the burden and bringing our expertise to bear on the world’s toughest problems. To achieve this we need to upgrade our capabilities across the board.”

Campaigners have been critical of the news, which comes just weeks after the Tories resisted extending free school meals to hungry children over the school holidays in England.

The UK Government has also refused to extend the £20 uplift to Universal Credit beyond April, which would cost £9bn overall.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade urged ministers to rethink its priorities in the wake of the news.

Andrew Smith of the body said: "This is a totally inappropriate response to the pandemic. Only a matter of days ago the Government was telling us that there wasn’t enough money to feed hungry school students during the holidays, but now it has found an extra £16bn to add to what was already one of the biggest military budgets in the world.

“Covid has exposed the impact of cuts and austerity. It is essential that the economy is rebuilt, but that should be based on sustainable jobs and industries that can help to create a stronger, greener and safer economy.

“The money should be used to build the green jobs that we need, and to fund the goods and services that we all rely on. It should not be used to buy evermore complex and deadly weapon systems.”