Boris Johnson made a joyless return to the Commons. There was a willed brutality about his performance which suggested inner doubts and raised no one’s spirits.
And there was a drilled, demeaning feel to the burst of clapping with which his own backbenchers, and the Democratic Unionists on the Opposition benches, greeted the flouts and jeers he flung at Jeremy Corbyn.
The applause went on too long, so that for a moment – curious sensation – one felt one was watching a communist rally, where no one dared be the first to stop clapping.
This was a bare-knuckle encounter, with the Prime Minister determined to demonstrate that the Government’s defeat in the Supreme Court has in no way dimmed his fighting spirit.
He did so by denouncing the parliamentarians who seek to thwart him with their “Surrender Bill”, and when reproached for the use of such language, offered instead to to call it the “Humiliation Bill” or the “Capitulation Act”.
Here was a leader anxious to show he is on the side of the wider public: “The people at home know that this Parliament will keep delaying, it will keep sabotaging the negotiations because they don’t want a deal.”
A number of Opposition members, and some from his own side too, chided him for his tone. Their lectures, though heartfelt, occasionally veered towards the prosy.
Johnson presented himself as the unrepentant champion of the ancient right of freeborn Britons to be as rude as they like about whoever they like.
He declared that “the way to puncture the great poisonous puffball” of Brexit is to get it done. Any ill-effects from not doing it are his opponents’ fault.
This Prime Minister is capable, when he wishes, of striking a unifying note. He has evidently decided that in the present adverse circumstances, such unity would be worse than useless, for it would be on his opponents’ terms, and he must instead show he is ready to bludgeon his way out of trouble.
This was a way to get through what might have been an awkward parliamentary encounter, but to get Brexit through, one guesses other weapons may be required.