The Prime Minister rushed into the House and slid into his seat like an errant schoolboy who has made it into class in the nick of time. He rose with extraordinary rapidity when called to make his statement on the G7, as if so full of energy and animal spirits that he could not bear to remain seated a moment longer, and held forth in a manner that was quite astonishingly rude to his opponents.
Boris Johnson had decided that the best way to play things was to wind up anyone who disapproves of him. If they began by frowning at his behaviour, let them end by weeping and gnashing their teeth.
According to the Prime Minister, the measure before the House which would prevent a no deal Brexit is “Jeremy Corbyn’s Surrender Bill” and means “running up the white flag”.
Corbyn was provoked by this scorn into a better performance than he usually gave against Theresa May. “We’re not surrendering,” he insisted, “because we’re not at war with Europe.”
And he ended by declaring that the Prime Minister has “no mandate, no morals and as of today no majority”.
No majority was a reference to Dr Phillip Lee, who had just defected to the Liberal Democrats, and could be seen sitting next to their new leader, Jo Swinson.
But the afternoon belonged to Johnson the pantomime Prime Minister, behaving with an effrontery which has not been seen in a leader of the Conservative Party since Benjamin Disraeli in 1867, when to the horror and disgust of serious-minded men, he wangled the Second Reform Bill through the Commons.
Johnson horrifies and disgusts serious-minded people. Theresa May sat pale and disapproving beside Kenneth Clarke, the Leader of the House.
On the Labour front bench Sir Keir Starmer looked as if he could not bear Johnson. Hilary Benn, several rows behind him, began by laughing but soon evinced a frigid disgust.
Clarke, Benn and Philip Hammond were among the many who demanded detail from Johnson which he refused to give. One could not help wondering, as he batted away specific inquiries with broad brush observations, if he is preparing a trap for his opponents.
Perhaps one morning we shall awake to find a cornucopia of detail pouring out of Downing Street, most of it excruciatingly dull. Perhaps Johnson the conjuror is all the while distracting us with a series of outrageous tricks, so we do not see what he is actually doing.
Huw Merriman (Con, Bexhill and Battle) asked whether whether the whip will be removed from those Conservative MPs who refuse to vote for whatever deal the Prime Minister may bring back from Brussels.
“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” he replied. Disraeli, sorry Johnson, will stop at nothing to get a measure through which inflicts the deepest pain on the Gladstones of our time, on whichever side of the Commons they may be found.