Corbyn's position on Russia failed to impress Conservative or Labour MPs – but the public might see it differently

Strategically, it may make sense to keep in check the rhetoric of conflict and aggression, given the Russian leadership’s view of the world as threatening it. But that wasn't an argument Corbyn chose to make, and what he did say went down badly

Russia statement: Jeremy Corbyn questions why nerve agent samples haven't been sent to Moscow

The Prime Minister announced some token measures in response to last week’s poisoning of Sergei Skripal. She announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, and was keen to assert that it was “the biggest expulsion for 30 years”.

She disinvited Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, who had been expected to visit, and confirmed that no ministers or members of the royal family would attend the World Cup in Russia.

And she announced the Government would “urgently develop proposals for new legislation”, although there were few details of the kind of thing she had in mind, beyond a reference to Magnitsky law, which is a convenient slogan for both sides in the House of Commons: the Government claims to be taking the measures to freeze assets implied by US “Magnitsky” legislation, while the Opposition accuses it of failing to do enough.

Against a more anti-Russian Labour leader, she might have been embarrassed by the thinness of her response. Such a leader of the opposition might have contrasted her furious language on Monday with the mildness of the measures today. But she wasn’t facing such a leader – although there were several Labour backbenchers who auditioned for that role.

She was up against Jeremy Corbyn, who could be guaranteed to unite the House of Commons against him. His stubborn refusal to condemn the Russian government ensured that he was isolated in the chamber. Claire Perry, the Government minister, spoke for many on the benches on Corbyn’s side when she shouted across at him: “You are a disgrace to your party.”

Of course, there may be an argument for Corbyn’s position. Strategically, it may make sense to keep in check the rhetoric of conflict and aggression, given the Russian leadership’s view of the world as threatening it.

But that wasn’t an argument that Corbyn chose to make. Instead, he sought refuge in the idea of international consensus, the terms of the Convention on Chemical Weapons and the rules of fair process.

Which made it easy for Theresa May to turn his words against him. There was a consensus in Britain and among its allies, she pointed out: it just didn’t include him. His suggestion that it was still possible that the Russian government had lost control of its military nerve agent went down badly in the House.

Equally, his partisan swipe at the Government for cutting spending on the diplomatic service by 25 per cent seemed gratuitous. He tried to divert attention from his failure to condemn the Russian government for the Skripal poisoning by condemning it for other things (“abuse of human rights” in general) and by condemning what happened in Salisbury in colourful terms (“appalling act of violence”, “abominable”) without even speculating about who might have been responsible.

It didn’t do him any good with Tory MPs – or with many of his own backbenchers.

I suspect, however, that there is more support for Corbyn’s position outside the House of Commons: the Conservatives and non-Corbynite Labour MPs ought to have learned by now that his idealistic opposition to warlike words goes down well with much of the general public.

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