The Daily Mail reports: The Syrian government claims to have shot down  IsraeliI missiles over the capital of Damascus – just days after President Biden launched his first military action targeting Iran-backed militias in the country. Syrian air defences were activated in the capital, as well as its southern suburbs, on Sunday night to repel an Israeli missile attack, according to state media. There was no word on casualties. State TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that most of the Israeli missiles were shot down before reaching their targets near Damascus. Earlier this month, Israeli missile strikes against arms depots near Syria’s capital killed at least nine pro-regime militia fighters, the Observatory reported.The attack comes after the United States launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday which targeted facilities near the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed militias in Al Bukamal.



From Reuters: Iran has ruled out holding an informal meeting with the United States and European powers to discuss ways to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, insisting that Washington must lift all its unilateral sanctions. Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries, which was proposed by the EU foreign policy chief, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to Iranian media.



The Times reports: Support for Scottish independence has dropped to 50 per cent for the first time since June last year, a new poll has shown, suggesting the civil war in the SNP has dented the campaign to break up Britain. A Survation survey of 1,000 Scots found that support for separation had fallen, losing a lead built in the past nine months that bolstered the confidence of supporters heading into May’s Holyrood elections. According to the poll, when undecided voters are removed, support evens out at 50 percent. When undecided voters are included, however, the yes supporting side loses its lead by 44 per cent to 43 per cent, with 13 percent saying they do not know how they would vote.



From Breitbart: London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called for the expansion of postal voting in the upcoming local elections, claiming that the “disproportionate” effect of the Chinese coronavirus on ethnic minorities and the elderly will reduce voter turnout. In a letter to Constitution Minister Chloe Smith, Khan demanded that the government fund the distribution of postal voting forms to every household in the areas having elections this May.



The Telegraph writes: Universities which allow books to be censored on reading lists are risking a fictionalisation of history reminiscent of the Soviet Union, the Government has warned in the latest front in the so-called culture wars. Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister, said that removing key texts from reading lists was “a very dangerous and odd road to go down, and certainly it has no place in our universities”. Last year Oxford University students warned that reading lists should come with ‘trigger warnings’ and called on the university to publish guidance for faculties to consider whether articles on reading lists amount to hate speech. Students voted against ableist, classist and misogynistic reading lists, claiming that they should not be forced to engage with any hateful material. However Ms Donelan has said ‘as a history student myself, I’m a vehement protector and champion of safeguarding our history. It otherwise becomes fiction.’



The Times has learnt that people smugglers will face life sentences under Priti Patel’s plans to crack down on Channel crossings, The home secretary is expected to announce the move in an attempt to increase from three years the average length of sentences for gangsters convicted of assisting illegal immigration. The longer jail terms are part of a series of deterrent measures due to take effect next year. Ministers fear a rise in crossings this year as migrants try to reach Britain before the law is tightened.



The Daily Mail reports that over 500 people have already crossed the English Channel this year, after dozens of migrants were intercepted and detained by the Border Force on Saturday. Home Office officials confirmed that 87 people made the treacherous crossing in four separate incidents yesterday. They said all adults who have arrived today have been tested for Covid 19 with one person testing positive.The boats were picked up in the Channel by Border Force cutters and brought in to the Port of Dover in Kent. The latest arrivals take the number of migrants that have been detained by Border Force in 2021 to 531, almost double the 279 people intercepted in January and February last year and the 2020 total recorded  8,410 arrivals dwarfing 2019’s total of 1,850.



The SUN has found that half of British police stations have closed in the past 10 years. At least 667 with public counters have shut down since 2010 – with some being turned into cannabis farms Many closed their doors for good due to severe cost-cutting, but others have temporarily closed during the pandemic and critics fear that justice is in retreat as reports show that several serious incidents have happened outside closed police stations, especially during lockdown.



The SUN reports that a major search has been launched to track down a missing Covid patient who has tested positive for the mutant Brazilian strain of the virus. Officials say every effort is underway to find the infected person after Public Health England today confirmed six cases of the Manaus P1 variant which is thought to be more contagious and  may not respond as well to the jab although no vaccine data for it exists. Three of the people with the new strain were detected on Friday in England, while three were found in Scotland on Saturday. Health officials have identified five of the cases, but an urgent alert has been issued to find the sixth as their identity and whereabouts is unknown. They did not register their Covid test online, meaning they have not been identified. A government spokesperson said officials are doing everything they can to find the person.



From the Daily Mirror: Rishi Sunak is to hit working Brits with a stealth rise in income tax in his Budget, according to reports.The Chancellor will unveil his plan to repair the nation’s finances after huge and unprecedented levels of public spending to fund the Covid pandemic response. He is expected to give a major boost to the housing market, by extending the stamp duty holiday to June and bringing back 95% mortgages. The Chancellor is set to resist a large-scale claw back of the £400bn spent on the Covid pandemic and avoid big tax hikes. But he may also set out plans to quietly raise income tax receipts by six billion pounds.



The Express reports: The possibility of interest rates going negative remains. It’s nearly a year on since the Bank of England Base Rate was slashed to a record low of 0.1 percent. The move was made in March 2020 over two successive cuts, and the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has voted to maintain the Bank Rate at this level ever since.  While the MPC has explicitly said it does not wish to signal any intention for interest rates to go negative, banks have been asked to prepare for this measure.



From the Sunday Times: The sun is shining, the crocuses are out – but what’s that stuck to a tree? A flyer for an illegal haircut. James has been offering black-market trims since he was made redundant from his job in recruitment. In January everyone cancelled their appointments, especially older clients, he says, but last week something changed: “I’ve had 30 people call to make inquiries.” He had four appointments the day before we spoke, scattered around London, and plenty more in the week ahead. Some people have decided that two months is too long to wait, says James, who has a Covid-19 test twice a week. “Others know they are going to be spending more time outdoors and they want to look all right before they do”.



From the Daily Mail: Man’s best friends might be scared of vacuum cleaners but dogs are smarter than given credit for, according to a study. Scientists researching their intelligence in Japan found they can remember if a person is trustworthy. If they decide the person giving them an order is not, the clever canine will often decide not to follow their orders. John Bradshaw, a veterinary scientist who specialises in human-animal interactions at the University of Bristol, said that dogs like their lives to be predictable. He said: Dogs whose owners are inconsistent to them often have behavioural disorders.


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