The next generation of London Underground trains should be driverless, Boris Johnson has said to stop commuters being "held to ransom" by militant drivers' unions.
The Prime Minister said he wanted to make driverless trains a condition of a £1.6 billion bail-out of Transport for London, which has nearly gone bust as demand has collapsed during the coronavirus lockdown.
Mr Johnson's comments will be seen as the latest attempts by the Government to push back against transport union attempts to frustrate the return of commuters to work by repeatedly warning about the increased risks of reduced social distancing.
Rail unions have also long baulked at the prospect of driverless trains, claiming that the technology would lead to safety risks and job losses.
On a visit to a site in Goole, Yorkshire, where German company Siemens is building new London Underground trains, and will open a rail manufacturing facility in 2022, Mr Johnson spoke up for a future of driverless trains.
Mr Johnson said: "You can run these trains without the need for somebody to be sitting in the driver's cab the whole time."
He added that he would make the adoption of driverless trains part of the deal - comprising a £1.1 billion grant and £505 million loan - that the Government is negotiating with TfL, which runs the London Tube network.
Mr Johnson said: "So what I will be saying to the London transport authority is let's take advantage of this technological leap forward, let's not be the prisoners of the unions any more, let's go to driverless trains, and let's make that a condition of the funding settlement for Transport for London this autumn.
"That's the way forward for this country and we want to make use of the fantastic technology we've got and provide a better service for people in the capital and take the whole economy forward."
He added: “We will go forward with the technology this country is capable of and will not be held ransom by the unions.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister is very ambitious on driverless trains.He was pushing for them when he was Mayor of London.
"He thinks the current mayor [Sadiq Khan] - because he is in hock to the unions - won't do something which is obviously right for passengers on the Tube."
London Underground workers have some of the strongest unions in the country. In recent years, concerns over driver pay, job losses and working conditions have led to a number of crippling strikes across the capital's transport network.
While Docklands Light Railways lines do not have drivers, there are no driverless trains on the Tube network. London Underground drivers are paid £55,011 a year, although there are claims that some are paid over £100,000 a year, including overtime.
Mr Johnson's comments were attacked by Finn Brennan, organiser on London Underground for train drivers' union Aslef, said: "As always, Boris Johnson is talking nonsense about driverless trains.
"Slashing Government funding to TfL means that they cannot afford the signalling upgrade and other technology that would be needed for driverless trains.
"While pretending to support a 'great leap forward', the Prime Minister's policies are actually preventing any progress with transport in the capital.
"They mean that Londoners will suffer years of delays and overcrowding in the future."
A Mayor of London spokesman said: “London is one of the only major cities in Western Europe without a Government grant for day-to-day transport operations.
"This outdated model simply does not work in this new reality - ministers urgently need to agree a new funding model with either permanent funding from central Government or giving London more control over key taxes so we can pay for it ourselves, or a combination of both."
During his time as Mayor of London from 2008 to 2016, Mr Johnson was involved in a series of bitter disputes with trade unions in relation to London Underground services.
In 2011, he said that “virtually anybody” could drive a Tube train as he gave his support for more automation, adding: “I hope the unions will recognise that the patience of Londoners is not endless.”