The Tory grandee was candid, but florid. ‘Enough. It’s time to bring down the curtain. This farce is played out.’ 

The Minister was more grounded. ‘I’m sick of the whole thing. My job is my passion. But this can’t go on. I’m seriously thinking about jacking it all in.’

The Westminster pendulum is now swinging. Boris has been defeated by the biggest rebellion and most devastating loss of North Shropshire during his primeship. 

‘He’ll probably be gone by May,’ one backbencher told me, a little too gleefully.

Wrong. Boris isn’t finished. Boris isn’t finished, at least not yet. A by-election took place in Old Bexley, Sidcup two weeks ago. It was expected that the Tories would lose in the aftermath of Owen Paterson’s and Peppa Pig farragos. They didn’t. 

The Westminster pendulum has swung. A new conventional wisdom is forming: after the largest rebellion of his premiership, and the catastrophic loss in North Shropshire, Boris is finished

The Westminster pendulum is swinging. Boris has finished.

Talking to people it became obvious. ‘Boris has done his best. He’s looked after the country during Covid’ was the response I heard again and again on the doorsteps.

There used to be a popular political mantra that politicians and their advisers would chant to one other – ‘It’s the economy, stupid’. 

This belief held that no matter what other noises were going around, the economy would always be the central political issue. But not now. This morning, it’s Covid, stupid.

Omicron has derailed Boris. When the country was locked down, these were the parties. They were lying about their parties. Then the national realisation that the surge of a new variant – and frantic new measures to neutralise its impact – could destroy Christmas for a second year running.

That’s certainly what motivated those Tory MPs who traipsed rebelliously through the lobbies last week. ‘If they think I’m voting for further restrictions, they’re mad,’ one told me. ‘That’s enough. We said we’d learn to live with Covid. Well, now’s the time.’

It’s also what motivated a large proportion of mutinous Tory voters in Shropshire. Sir Ed Davey was victorious in Lib-Dem elections and ordered that his MPs oppose Covid passports despite being ill.

Boris is now in political purgatory because of the virus that has resurgent. But, he also has a path to redemption. Should he choose to do so.

The first thing Boris has to do is demonstrate he’s sticking to his guns. Boris must stick to his plan. The new measures that the Government proposed were not as broad-based as the drama last week in the Commons. 

Whitty himself warned ¿there are several things we don¿t know [about Omicron] but all the things we do know are bad¿. According to reports, in a briefing to Cabinet he warned of the total collapse of NHS services as Omicron runs amok

Whitty himself warned ‘there are several things we don’t know [about Omicron] but all the things we do know are bad’. Reports claim that he gave a briefing before Cabinet warning of the collapse of NHS services due to Omicron running amok

As one official said: ‘A majority of the rebels were objecting from a position of libertarian principle, rather than reacting to the practical impacts of the new measures.’

Covid passports were issued for limited venues. Proof of negative Covid tests was also required. Mask-wearing and covid passports are examples of restrictions. It is not possible to return in lockdown or do anything similar.

He needs to let go of the apron strings that his specialists have tied around him. Chris Whitty has a strong following from those who support a stronger approach to dealing with the new strain. And to be fair, he seems to be genuinely motivated by a desire to protect the public’s health.

But it’s no longer possible to ignore the glaring discrepancies in his and his colleagues’ analysis of the pandemic. Last week, UK Health Security chief Jenny Harries described Omicron as ‘probably the most significant threat’ we had faced since the start of the pandemic.

Whitty himself warned ‘there are several things we don’t know [about Omicron] but all the things we do know are bad’. Reports claim that he gave a briefing before Cabinet warning of the collapse of NHS services due to Omicron running amok. 

Yet, a few hours later, Whitty told the House of Commons Health Select Committee that in the fight against Covid ‘each six months will be better than the last six months… I think what will happen is the risks will gradually decrease over time’. 

This is a paradox when you consider the fact that we now face our greatest danger two years later than in crisis?

Chris Whitty enjoys a cult-like following among those who advocate a more robust approach to tackling the new strain. And to be fair, he seems to be genuinely motivated by a desire to protect the public¿s health

Chris Whitty is a well-known figure among people who support a robuster approach to the fight against this new strain. And to be fair, he seems to be genuinely motivated by a desire to protect the public’s health

Whitty’s defenders claim he is rightly erring on the side of caution. This caution, however, is starting to sound like the cry of the boy that spotted the marauding Wolf. 

It’s only three months since he was warning Delta, which he chillingly described as a ‘very bad variant’, could lead to the triggering of the Government’s Plan B. Sage warned Delta could see 7,000 hospitalisations a day by October.

However, Delta had been stagnating until Omicron’s emergency. Hospitalisations were dropping and death rates were increasing. Boris’s decision to unlock – in the face of much of the ‘expert’ advice – was vindicated.

But, perhaps most concerning, was Whitty’s insistence it’s wrong to accept the body of evidence from South Africa that Omicron is more mild. 

‘The amount of immunity in South Africa for this wave – because of a prior Delta wave and vaccination – is far higher than it was for their last wave. And therefore the fact there is a lower hospitalisation rate is unsurprising,’ he announced. 

Up until now, the claim that exposure to the virus – and a reliance on natural immunity – would protect from hospitalisation has been the preserve of the anti-vaxxers.

Nor does it tally with the argument that rising infection and hospitalisation rates in London are a result of the capital’s relatively low rates of vaccination.

The reality is that, at this stage of the pandemic, it is no longer good enough for Boris and his Ministers – or, more pertinently, his most senior health officials – to push for restrictions based on what we don’t know. 

Health effects of cancelled GP visits, economic downturns, and the mental burden of Covid’s unending rollercoaster are all important. All require an evidence-based approach, not a ‘better safe than sorry’ punt.

And there is one final reason why Boris has to stick with the strategy that saw him pledge in March that major Covid restrictions were being eased ‘once and for all’. It is impossible to find another option.

As a nation we cannot drift in an unending cycle of temporary liberty followed by perpetual lockdown. It is time to stop.

We did our part. We’ve done our bit. The second jab has been administered. One Government official that I talked to said today, 50 percent of us would have our boosters. That was the agreement Britain made. 

With Boris and his Ministers – and yes – with his experts. The lockdowns would be endured. The circuit-breakers would be tolerated. The NHS would be protected by everyone. The vaccine never arrived. In that case, the NHS would return to providing protection.

Well, it’s here now. And it doesn’t represent Plan A, it represents the only plan. Boris will stick to his plan, and reports about his political death may be premature. He will prove next year that he did lead the country through the Covid nightmare. The events of these past days will then be forgotten. 

Nobody will be interested in Downing Street Zoom quizzes. 

If he violates his promise and the NHS falls apart despite his booster boosterism then there is no hiding place.

Boris believes there’s no Plan B. His road map is there. Or there’s oblivion.