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“We choose to be good global citizens”: David Davis strays from Theresa May’s script

What happened to last year’s “citizens of nowhere”?

The Brexit Secretary David Davis would have you believe his party conference speech was about devising a Brexit plan rather than a career plan. But he didn’t quite succeed.

While he reiterated the government’s need to be prepared to walk away from a Brexit deal (saying Whitehall contingency arrangements are in play), what he really revealed was a shift in tone from that of the Prime Minister – who he may hope one day to be his predecessor.

This time last year, Theresa May used her now notorious party conference speech to condemn those who see themselves as “citizens of the world” – ie the so-called liberal elite that has benefited from globalisation – as “citizens of nowhere” (a phrase Vince Cable told me “could have been taken out of Mein Kampf”).

“If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”

But in his speech today, Davis strayed from this script, speaking of “Britain’s global role” and declaring that “we [the UK] choose to be good global citizens” – echoing more the “global race” rhetoric of the Cameron era than May’s attack on “citizens of nowhere”.

It’s a tonal shift towards the Tories and others who are more into liberalism and the economic opportunities of Brexit (think the Spectator’s cover with a Union Jack butterfly fluttering out of an EU flag box) than those who rail against immigration. A telling contrast with the “postliberal” moment his beleaguered boss represented with such short-lived fanfare last year.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.