It was not a rogue operation. In a statement delivered immediately after PMQs, the Prime Minister indicated the very large volume of evidence linking Russian military intelligence to the Salisbury attacks, and said that when asked to account for what happened, the Russian authorities had responded with “obfuscation and lies”.
The House heard her in silence, for a grave tone suits her, and the story itself was so outrageous that it compelled attention. “They even claimed that I myself invented Novichok,” Theresa May said, and no one laughed.
Jeremy Corbyn did his best to indicate that he shared the House’s indignation at the contempt shown by Moscow for human life and British law. But his best is not particularly good, and he soon found himself saying “I condemn” the police and security services, when he meant “I commend”.
Boris Johnson, embedded deep in the Tory backbenches, rose and attacked “the somewhat weaselly language used by the Leader of the Opposition”. There is a man keen not to don the mantle of statesmanship, but to remind his fellow backbenchers that he can carry the fight to Labour.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, May was keen to remind Conservatives she can perform that service perfectly well herself, with no need for help from the former Foreign Secretary.
She ordered Corbyn to apologise for insulting Britain’s Jews. He responded by pointing to Cabinet divisions on Brexit.
But when he complained, “She can’t keep dancing around all the issues,” he provoked more laughter at his own expense than at hers.
These two combatants fought different battles and seldom connected with each other. Corbyn was certainly not going to take orders from May, and she was certainly not going to take questions from him.
Although the leading actors were the same as when they went away in July, and have got no better at acting, the holiday did seem to have revived them a bit, and they were not, for most of the time, dull. For the future of Brexit is clouded in such deep uncertainty that what happens in the Commons is of absorbing interest.