THE prospect of apprehending the hitmen who poisoned former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter must now be regarded as so remote as to be close to zero. The Kremlin – if indeed it is behind this so-called ‘act of war’ – will have ensured those responsible are now safely hidden away, most likely back in Russia. That happened in the similar case of Mr Litvinenko, who died. We got nowhere near those responsible for that crime.

So, how should Britain respond to this criminal outrage once the facts are better known? The idea of a boycott of the World Cup in Russia is just too feeble for words. It would make very little difference to anything – and Vladimir Putin and his henchmen would not care an iota.

The idea of the removal of some diplomats from the Russian Embassy in London is another option, but this would simply be met with a tit-for-tat reaction from the Russian authorities in depleting the British Embassy in Moscow. A complete break-off of diplomatic relations between the two countries is another possibility, but I doubt if even that would make a huge difference to the Kremlin.

It would seem at the moment that really severe sanctions against Russia – action which would visibly damage Russia’s economy – might be the answer. But is Britain – without the cooperation of allies – capable of introducing sanctions on a scale that would have this effect? Putin, despite his ruthless regime, is hugely popular in Russia and it is almost certain he will soon be re-elected as president. Meanwhile, statues of Josef Stalin, removed at the time the Berlin Wall was destroyed, are starting to re-emerge. A worrying sign for the West at large, not just for the United Kingdom. And a massive problem for Theresa May.

IT is a well-known fact that the Australian Parliament is, to its credit, far more tolerant of rudeness and robust insults than is Westminster. I once heard a perplexed MP having to withdraw the use of the word “poppycock” at Westminster. If you don’t know what the word really means, just consult a dictionary, but even so, it is now accepted in English as no more than a harmless word of criticism.

That is why I am surprised that Qantas, the Australian airline, has called on its staff to avoid words like “mother”, “father” and “chairman”, among many others, and instead to stick to “gender neutral” words to avoid offending – as though they would – various categories of people. There was a time when we thought that political correctness was a passing phase which would quickly disappear.

Not a bit of it. It gets worse. A contributor on BBC Radio 2 the other day was rebuked by a presenter for using the word “snowman”. He should have said “snowperson”. Ye Gods!

IT must be the irony of the year so far. The BBC gender pay gap row has led to the first quasi-political pay campaign in history which has actually succeeded in reducing the salaries of some people – and is yet regarded as successful.