Boris Johnson tells Sydney: We need bigger AUKUS, more Ukraine aid to counter ‘continuum of evil’

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Former British prime minister Boris Johnson has called for an expanded AUKUS pact and greater Australian aid to Ukraine as part of a Western resistance to “the great global continuum of evil” from Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza.

Speaking in Sydney on Wednesday evening, Johnson delivered a rousing defence of Western liberal democracies and criticised what he called the Western world’s habit of “cancelling freedom of expression in the name of wokery”.

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson delivers the 11th John Howard Lecture for the Menzies Research Centre in Sydney.Credit: Renee Nowytarger

It was vital for Ukraine to prevail, Johnson said, to avoid not only “cruel and chauvinist tyranny” in that country, but to ward off “a new dark ages of geopolitics in which might is seen to be right, and the world’s autocrats believe they have the upper hand”.

“After decades of being pushed around, the world’s democracies will finally be sending a signal that we are willing to stand up for our values,” he said. “That signal will be heard wherever an autocrat is meditating an attack on a neighbouring democracy.”

To that end, Johnson said both the UK and Australia should give more to Ukraine, and despaired at US Republican efforts to block further American aid. He also called for a bigger second pillar of the AUKUS pact by which Australia, the UK and the US would share technology regarding artificial intelligence, quantum computing and semiconductors.

“We need AUKUS and we need more AUKUS because the threats, I’m afraid, are growing,” he said. “What we’re up against now, the Western liberal democracies, is the great global continuum of evil. It’s an arm wrestle, and we must prevail.”

“I’m not sure I’m quite as enthusiastic about net-zero as Boris is, but I won’t go into that.”

Johnson delivered the annual John Howard Lecture for the Menzies Research Centre, a Liberal Party think tank, at Sydney’s Fullerton Hotel, where he was introduced by former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison as “someone who dearly loves Australia” and the leader who “returned sovereignty to Great Britain” by delivering Brexit.

In his speech, Johnson praised Howard as the greatest living centre-right leader in the world, and said Britain needed to deploy Howard’s well-known dictum on asylum seekers that “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”.

The loudest applause from the Liberal crowd came when Johnson lamented that the “ancient sport of anti-Semitism” was sprouting in Western capital cities after Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel and the Jewish state’s response.

“Jewish kids are once again afraid to take the bus to school in case they’re bullied. Middle-class intellectuals tear down the posters of Jewish kids being held hostage by Hamas. We must call that out for what it is,” he said.

“We should focus on the reality of what happened on October the 7th. Israel suffered a disgusting and deliberate terrorist attack, and whatever Israel’s failings as a country, it is a democracy, and it is reasonable for a democracy to try to protect itself against terrorism.”

Boris Johnson was introduced by former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison and later interviewed by former PM John Howard (right).Credit: Renee Nowytarger

Johnson argued Western liberal democracies possessed not just superior values but better culture and greater scientific breakthroughs, and he encouraged his audience to be confident about their identity and proud of their history.

“We produce the music everybody wants to listen to. Who listens to Chinese pop songs? I don’t know any Chinese pop songs. Maybe I should,” he said. “Who listens to Russian techno funk? I don’t. I listen to Korean sci-pop, by the way. But that’s because they’re a liberal capitalist democracy.

“We produce these things precisely because cities like Sydney, places like London, they’re great bubbling cyclotrons of freedom and talented people bouncing around and meeting each other.”

The former British PM said in Russia they laughed at the prevailing cultural debates in Western communities, such as universities “cancelling” Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling for her views on transgender issues, or the retrospective editing of Roald Dahl’s books.

“They think we’re a bit nuts. We’re losing the argument there,” he said. “We’ve just got to be a bit more confident about what we believe in and our values.”

On that point, he said it “seems crazy to me” that high commissioner to the UK Stephen Smith cancelled a traditional Australia Day charity event at Australia House in London citing cultural sensitivities around January 26. The Australian government has now said some sort of function will still take place.

Johnson extolled the value of green jobs and technology to enable a post hydrocarbon world. But, aware of the Liberal Party’s internal struggles on climate change, he said: “I know net-zero is not necessarily flavour of the month in every heart here in this room. Probably to put it mildly.”

Howard later remarked: “I’m not sure I’m quite as enthusiastic about net-zero as Boris is, but I won’t go into that.”

While he noted Australia suffered a housing problem like the UK, and acknowledged immigration contributed to those strains, Johnson was reluctant to embrace the Liberal Party’s scepticism on immigration, joking that given the size of Australia “you would have thought you could fit a few people in”, and describing himself as a pro-immigration Reaganite.

Johnson also said Australia and the UK should work together on nuclear power, imploring the room not to be deterred by the “sandal-wearing, salmon-eating anti-nuclear brigade”.

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