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The Brexit paper on science reads like a bad Taylor Swift break-up song

I don't like your little games... The role you made me play.

This week the Department for Exiting the European Union published a paper outlining its vision for future collaboration between the EU and the UK on "major science, research, and technology initiatives".

The paper has been criticised by scientists as vague and unrealistic. It also fails to reassure the science community over financial commitments to Horizon 2020 (the EU's biggest research and innovation fund of which the UK is a major recipient), or the status of EU researchers already working in this country. 

Simultaneously conceited and forlorn, the paper appears to have taken inspiration from the work of Taylor Swift – as just like the pop star's songs, there's lots to read between the lines:

The document starts with a series of boasts

Just so you know... we have "four of the world’s top ten universities" and "with only... 4.1 percent of researchers, the UK accounted for 15.9 percent of the world’s most highly cited articles in 2013".

This is a confident start. Though it does fail to mention how much of that success has been built on the work of EU or cooperation with EU institutions. 

Look, we don't need your money – we have our own

"Furthermore, this Government’s manifesto made a commitment to raise research and development (R&D) spending as a proportion of GDP to 2.4 percent by 2027, and to 3 percent over the longer term".

While welcomed by scientists, some, such as the deputy director for the Campaign for Science and Engineering Naomi Weir, doubt whether this increased investment will make up for the uncertainties thrown up by Brexit.

You need us more than we need you

"The share of EU co-authored publications in the top 10 per cent of highly cited publications is higher when collaborating with the UK.

"The UK is a top five collaboration partner for each of the other 27 Member States".

This message seems at odds with the Government's leaked Brexit immigration papers which, say "wherever possible, UK employers should look to meet their labour needs from resident labour". Who are all these UK researchers working with non-resident labour?!

Remember everything we’ve been through

"The UK and the EU start from a position of close regulatory alignment, trust in one another’s institutions, and a spirit of co-operation stretching back decades."

Which is all be in jeopardy as a result of one relationship-ending vote. The paper cites the success of partnerships between the UK and EU countries on medical research, the space program and civil nuclear research. It does not outline how the government hopes to retain these partnerships outside the EU, only that they hope to do so. 

We're special – you know we're special!

"Given the UK’s unique relationship with European science and innovation, the UK would also like to explore forging a more ambitious and close partnership with the EU than any yet agreed between the EU and a non-EU country."

The paper makes several references to precedents set by partnerships between the EU and other non-EU states, but here seems to suggest that not only is it a given that the UK will receive similar treatment post-Brexit, but can somehow expect a more a favourable one. 

You're not like the rest of them

"The government has made clear that, although freedom of movement will cease to apply in the UK, the UK will continue to welcome the brightest and best, and as such, migration between the UK and the EU will continue after the UK leaves the EU."

Ignore our leaked immigration documents that say we don't want you to be joined by your family here. They're not the "brightest and the best" – you are! Michael Arthur, the Provost of UCL (one of the four top universities mentioned by the government earlier in the report) recently said that 95 per cent of his senior researchers had been approached by other European institutions. 

We won't be messed about with

"Looking ahead to a strong future relationship, both the UK and the European Commission have been clear that they expect the fair treatment of UK researchers and firms."

No indication of how the Government expect to ensure this "fair treatment". Maybe they should read Trump's "The Art of the Deal". Talking about America... 

We don't even really need you

"Some of the UK’s most important collaborators lie outside the EU, notably the US (as the UK’s top research partner), Australia, China, Canada and Japan."

The paper points out that the Government is investing £100 million into the Rutherford Fund to attract researchers from countries such as India, China and Brazil. The potential loss of £1bn from the EU's Horizon 2020 project was not discussed...

Much like Taylor Swift herself, the UK government seems convinced that whatever the impact of ending this intense relationship, our scientists will simply be able to Shake It Off.

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The Daily Mail’s reaction to Tom Daley’s baby is a reminder we’re not all equal yet

Columnist Richard Littlejohn seems to find it hard to cope with the idea of a gay couple having a moment of happiness.

Seeing as it’s LGBT+ history month, you would be forgiven for thinking that, just maybe, Britain could make it through 28 short days without a homophobic media controversy. But sadly, where optimism appears, the right-wing British press too often follows.

After the news that British Olympic diver Tom Daley and Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance-Black are expecting their first child via a surrogate, radio station LBC quickly found itself in hot water. The station asked Twitter users whether, in their opinion, there is anything “sinister” about the woman carrying Daley and Lance-Black’s child being absent from the majority of media coverage. While there has long been a debate about the ethics of surrogacy, there are plenty of straight couples who have also turned to this option, and many nuances depending on the context, so the timing and wording of the question seemed pointed. LBC subsequently apologised for the “badly worded debate”.

But meanwhile, the printing presses were whirring.The main course to LBC’s starter, the Death Star to its Vadar and the hot dog to its mustard was springing into action. Otherwise known as: The Daily Mail.

Seemingly unable to cope with the idea of a gay couple having a moment of happiness, the paper employed its most un-lethal weapon, Richard Littlejohn, to put things right. In a piece entitled “Please don't pretend two dads is the new normal”, the columnist condemned the pair’s social media announcement, before expressing his discomfort at women being treated as “breeding machines” (again, note the sudden interest in the surrogacy debate). Next he takes aim at the media, lambasting them for covering this news just like any other baby announcement. Littlejohn then asks a series of erratic questions in quick succession. “Is Daley or his husband the father? Was it Bill, or was it Ben? Or neither of them?” Like a GSCE candidate who failed to revise for the exam, he soldiers on: “More pertinently, never mind Who's The Daddy? Who's The Mummy?”

By this point, you can practically picture Littlejohn, sweaty and misshapen, frothing at the mouth as he pummels his keyboard. Sensing that he’s out of material but still has half a page to fill, he haphazardly directs his hostility towards a trans woman who appeared in the news earlier this week, because why bother being homophobic when you can be transphobic too? Concluding the piece on a crescendo of awfulness, he “jokes” that he’s looking forward to the pictures of Daley breastfeeding, because apparently you can’t be a parent if you don’t breastfeed.

I suppose I should thank Littlejohn for proving, yet again, that the best way to transform male right-wing columnists into strident feminists is an opportunity to remind gay or trans people that they’ll never be seen as equals. Pre-emptively defending himself against accusations of homophobia within the article, Littlejohn claims he supported civil partnerships (but notably not same-sex marriages) long before “it was fashionable” to do so. Yet in 2004, the year that civil partnerships were introduced, Guardian columnist Marina Hyde dedicated an entire column to tracking his obsession with LGBT issues. “In the past year's Sun columns, Richard has referred 42 times to gays, 16 times to lesbians, 15 to homosexuals, eight to bisexuals, twice to 'homophobia' and six to being 'homophobic' (note his inverted commas), five times to cottaging, four to "gay sex in public toilets", three to poofs, twice to lesbianism, and once each to buggery, dykery, and poovery.” She writes, concluding: “This amounts to 104 references in 90-odd columns.”

The reaction to Littlejohn's latest piece was quick. Several organisations pulled out of advertising in the Daily Mail, a signal that the days of men like Littlejohn may soon be over. But whether published or not, this brand of homophobia is still prevalent in Britain. It appears when people claim not to have a problem with LGBT+ people, until one of their children comes out as gay or has a gay friend. It appears every time a person starts a sentence with “I’m not being homophobic, but…” It appears when gay parents, even those who have won Olympic medals and Academy Awards, are still only seen as a marginally better option that children being left to, as Littlejohn puts it, “rot in state run institutions where they face a better-than-average chance of being abused”.

As I suspect Littlejohn knows, no one is claiming that two dads is the new normal. Two gay parents is still a relatively new image for media and the public to digest, which has enabled this “debate” to happen. When 58 per cent of gay men are too afraid to hold hands with a partner in public, the idea that gay relationships are accepted enough to be considered anywhere close the “new normal” is ridiculous.

Yet Daley and Lance-Black’s announcement has revealed that, while homophobia is still mainstream enough to make it on to major platforms in the UK, it does not go unchallenged. We might not know what the tomorrow’s “normal” will be, but relics like Littlejohn represent the very worst of the past.