THE attack on two Russians living in Salisbury, their hospitalisation and that of a police off icer who went to assist them were alarming enough. The further poisoning of a couple in nearby Amesbury, apparently by the same nerve agent but seemingly accidental, is even more disturbing.

It raises questions about the UK Government’s apparent inability to respond effectively or to protect the public. Apart from the expulsion of a handful of Russian diplomats, ministers haven’t been able to hold Moscow to account, or even to establish a clear narrative.

They were not helped when Porton Down chief Gary Aitkenhead disputed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s claim that his lab had unequivocally established the nerve agent had come from Russia.

The fact that this takes place against the backdrop of an apparently hugely successful world cup hosted in Russia is even more frustrating.

Theresa May and her government look ineffectual and without a plan. This is increasingly their default look. Amid a flurry of ministers going off-message in articles, blogs and interviews, Mrs May is hosting a crunch Brexit summit at Chequers on Friday to attempt to corral her troops. But should that attempt to restore internal order be a success, there is still considerable doubt that her proposal for a ‘third way’ on customs and tariffs will be accepted by our EU partners. At the same time, minister for work and pensions, Esther McVey has had to apologise to MPs for misleading them, after another very public dressing down from Sir Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, whose report into Universal Credit she seriously misrepresented.

Against this backdrop of rudderless incompetence, how should the Government respond to the incident in Amesbury?

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has urged Moscow to explain “exactly what has gone on”. But given that the Russian Government continues to deny involvement in the original poisoning, and that Russian state media has rushed to ridicule such claims, this seems an unrealistic expectation. Such an explanation would amount to an admission that the country was responsible for Amesbury and the original attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

But Russia certainly does know about the nerve agent Novichok, and has unpublished research on its effects and possible treatment. If the Kremlin was not involved in carrying out the initial attack in Salisbury, there is no possible justification for failing to release this material.

We do not know if others could still be at risk of coming into contact with traces of Novichok. But if they do, such information could be vital, and even if not there is an unanswerable moral and humanitarian case for Mr Javid to demand full publication.