At about the same time he was trotting out Number 10’s lines, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, confirmed the Government’s decision not to move their amendment.
As a result of the volte-face, Labour’s motion, which cites four separate comments made by the Prime Minister about the scandal, passed without division about five hours later, as it became clear that it had the overwhelming support of those present in the Commons.
Steve Baker, the Tory MP and already an anti-lockdown thorn in the Government’s side, hardly helped matters by calling on the Prime Minister to resign during what had now become a rather meaningless session of Boris bashing.
The rarely used committee’s investigation can now start as soon as Scotland Yard finishes its investigations, not when Ms Gray’s report is published.
It will have the power to take evidence and examine more than 300 photos of lockdown gatherings on Whitehall and Downing Street which have been handed to police, in a move which threatens to severely test Mr Johnson’s defence that he did not “deliberately mislead” MPs, which he set out as recently as Tuesday.
‘Boris is now being weaponised’
So what exactly happened behind the scenes?
One veteran Tory with insider knowledge of the shenanigans explained: “The problem was colleagues were uneasy about the delay. In normal circumstances, the Government’s amendment was reasonable. But Boris is now being weaponised.
“The opposition intended to sell it to the public that MPs who voted for the Government’s amendment opposed the Labour motion and therefore were conspiring in a cover-up. That’s not a good look two weeks out from local elections.”
Another MP, an ally of Mr Johnson, agreed: “Colleagues told the whips they were worried about it looking like an Owen Paterson Mk II. They said to the whips ‘We’ll vote for it if you make us’, but do you really want to be doing that?”
Certainly not when Downing Street’s recent shake-up, putting Stephen Barclay and Andrew Griffiths into top Number 10 jobs, had been specifically designed to bridge the gap between the Prime Minister and his party.
As the Tory veteran added: “People aren’t prepared any longer to go over the top for him on this. This is the bit of Boris that we all knew was the risk. It’s hugely damaging.”