British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave his inaugural address to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday night, just hours after his country’s highest court ruled his suspension of Parliament was unlawful.
But the embattled Prime Minister did not talk about the ruling nor Brexit, apart from jokingly comparing the process of leaving the European Union to the classical Greek tale of Prometheus having his liver eaten by an eagle for eternity.
Instead, Johnson used his speech in New York to talk about the importance of science and technology in advancing society and the modern world. Specifically, he promoted transparency and pluralism in science and tech over “digital authoritarianism” where technology is used for censorship and surveillance.
“At stake is whether we bequeath an Orwellian world, designed for censorship, repression and control, or a world of emancipation, debate and learning, where technology threatens famine and disease, but not our freedoms,” he said.
In an at times rambling speech, Johnson promoted the United Kingdom as a global leader in technology and invited the world leaders present to attend a summit next year in London. The as yet unnamed summit would be an opportunity to ensure that “cutting-edge technologies” are designed with the right “safeguards in place to protect our peoples,” Johnson promised.
Johnson said he believed “governments have been simply caught unawares by the unintended consequences of the internet,” including the use and abuse of people’s data.
“Your mattress will monitor your nightmares, your fridge beeps for more cheese,” he continued, calling data “the crude oil of the modern economy.”
Noticeably absent from the speech was any talk about climate change or pledges to reduce CO2 emissions, unlike several of his fellow speakers. He said that technology could enable society to “vanquish killer diseases, eliminate famine and protect the environment.”
Johnson also condemned people who hold and promote anti-science beliefs and brought up the anti-vaccination movement in particular, whom he said were “endangering the children they want to protect.”
“I totally reject this anti-science pessimism. I am profoundly optimistic about the ability of new technology to serve as a liberator and remake the world wondrously,” he said.
His comments come as measles is making a comeback globally, with the United States, the UK and Europe seeing significant setbacks in eliminating the disease. Recent outbreaks of the potentially fatal disease in various countries have been blamed on the growth of the anti-vaccination movement, which has spread via social media and discourages parents from immunizing their children against measles and other diseases.
Before his speech, Johnson met with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the UNGA. Vaccination skeptics have been associated with Trump’s presidential campaign and his administration, though Trump has publicly said child vaccinations were important.
Speaking to reporters, Trump played down suggestions that Johnson should resign after he was found to have unlawfully suspended Parliament.
Asked how he responded to calls for him to go, Johnson said, “we respect the judiciary in our country,” before adding that he disagrees “profoundly” with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“That was a very nasty question,” Trump added when Johnson finished speaking. “I know him well, he’s not going anywhere,” the President said.
“No, no, no,” Johnson replied.
The Prime Minister was set to fly back to the UK after his UN speech, a government source told CNN. There is no information yet if and when he may speak in the House of Commons when it resumes session Wednesday.