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It's time to put our money where our mouth is on defence funding, starting with the Royal Navy

British Royal Navy's HMS Montrose
HMS Montrose sailed to the rescue when Iranian boats threatened a British tanker Credit: HO/ AFP

Three vessels from a foreign military power tried to seize a British ship conducting its rightful business. The simplicity of these words belies the incredible menace behind Iran’s actions. Not for the first time, Britain’s interests were defended by the Royal Navy.

As the son of a naval officer, I know a little of the sacrifices of these individuals and of their families back home – that mixture of worry and pride when a loved one serves overseas.

We should be honest about the situation our armed forces are in. As many former defence chiefs have warned, we have been underspending for a while on ensuring our capabilities are up to 21st-century conflict.

We can be proud of our commitment to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence. We must also be realistic that the scale of threats we face has increased. The wars of the future will be fought using completely new technologies – not least in cyber – and if we do not invest in them even our newer weapons will be obsolete.

Furthermore when you look at this week’s events it shows that in recent decades we have run down the Navy too much. Our current commitment is for 19 destroyers and frigates, supported by excellent offshore patrol vessels.

That will be backed by my promise to increase the defence budget to 2.5 per cent of GDP over five years. We will also see whether we need to add more Type 31s or offshore patrol vessels.

Our new aircraft carriers will be a vital tool for projecting power and walking tall in the world. My review will consider afresh how many of the 36 berths for F-35 Lightning jets should be filled when the planned fleet is deployed in 2021.

Each candidate to be prime minister will choose priorities for more spending, and other options may well be more popular. But I believe that increasing our military spending now is essential for two reasons.

First, because the primary duty of any government is to keep people safe, and the world is becoming more dangerous. There is no point having superb armed forces and equipment if these can be rendered impotent by an unexpected cyber attack. Extra resource cannot be about filling black holes caused by poor management; it must be about expanding capabilities in vital new elements of warfare.

Second, at the point of Brexit we need to send a strong signal about Britain’s role in the world. Alongside the US, the UK has been one of the two countries respected for championing democratic values and the security needed to underpin them. Just look at our actions to keep the world safe from North Korean nuclear strikes.

We are one of the few countries with both a seat on the UN Security Council and the naval capacity to enforce sanctions. Even more important, by increasing defence spending we keep the Atlantic alliance strong, demonstrating to the US that in Europe the UK at least is stepping up to its commitments on defence.

Our historic role is to use our extraordinary connections to be an invisible chain linking the democracies of the world.

As we start a new chapter in our history, we have the chance to put our money where our mouth is. So let’s back our brave troops.

As health secretary, I recognised that times had changed and we needed more funding for the NHS. I delivered that increase. As prime minister I will do the same for our armed forces.

Jeremy Hunt is the Foreign Secretary