One of the lighter moments for me in March 2020 came when my then six year old daughter darted around the aisles of our local corner shop, in a fruitless attempt to maintain a two-metre distance from another shopper.

At the time, young people might not have grasped the full severity of the crisis we faced, but they understood the basics of those jarring new rules that governed their lives.

I thought of that moment when I read the latest development in Boris Johnson’s plan to evade accountability for Partygate.

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He has tried everything at this point. Every excuse he has offered a disbelieving public only served to make the previous one even less credible.

No rules were broken; there were no parties; if there were parties he certainly wasn’t aware of them; the ones he attended were work events; nobody told him all the parties he attended were against the rules.

And now there’s this latest sorry excuse from a man who has no relationship with the truth.

On Friday, The Times revealed that Boris Johnson plans to appoint a private lawyer if he is questioned by the Metropolitan police on lockdown-breaking events he attended.

That lawyer is reportedly going to focus on the ‘living above the shop’ defence to get Boris Johnson out of trouble.

Boris Johnson’s allies have long argued that the prime minister was in a unique position during lockdown because Downing St was both his home and his office.

He worked from home. Which is a novel concept only to those who were cryogenically frozen for the past two years.

Like every excuse before it, it is so maddening - so utterly stupid and so fatally riddled with logical inconsistencies – that upon hearing it you can feel only anger.

It shows, like the Owen Paterson stitch-up before it, that this government believes ordinary people to be gullible idiots.

By now, we know that Boris Johnson doesn’t intend to go quietly.

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Throughout his decades in public life he been given good reason to believe that the rules don’t apply to him.

Despite the scale of the Partygate scandal and the public anger and hurt it has unleashed, Boris Johnson still doesn’t think he should face any consequences for his many misjudgements and lies.

His attempt to brazen out this scandal should worry all those Conservative MPs who are currently watching and waiting to see what happens next, as they consider whether to submit their own letter of No Confidence in the prime minister.

The Met has sent out questionnaires to over fifty people thought to have attended one or some of the rule-breaking parties currently under investigation.

They will be asked to give their account of events and any ‘’reasonable excuse’’ they believe they might have.

Those who aren’t judged to have had a reasonable excuse for partying during the pandemic are likely to be issued with a fixed-penalty notice.

The prime minster may be among them, but one senior ally of Boris Johnson was quoted in The Times warning the Met police against issuing one.

They said the police would need to be ‘’very certain’’ before acting.

‘’There is inevitably a degree of discretion here. Do you want the Metropolitan Police deciding who the prime minister is?’’ they told The Times.

‘’If he does get one, it would be odd if the discretionary action of the police determines the future of the country.’’

Surely it would be even more odd for Boris Johnson to get a special pass from the rule of law?

What this source is warning against is actually what would happen if Boris Johnson were treated differently out of concern for the political ramifications that would follow.

If the police let Boris Johnson off the hook, while fining the colleagues that he drank and nibbled alongside, then that would in itself be a political intervention.

The fact that somebody close to the prime minister would even float such an idea shows us how far into the gutter this sorry episode has taken us.

If nothing else, it should be a wake-up call for all Conservative MPs.

We know Boris Johnson’s track record on this. From the illegal proroguing of parliament and re-writing the rules to save Owen Paterson to his steadfast refusal to correct the record when he has mislead the House of Commons, he will try anything to dodge that which he does not like.

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The Met police investigation is likely to drag on for a few more weeks at least. As Tory MPs watch and wait, they shouldn’t be under any illusion that they are merely passive bystanders.

How much sleaze are they willing to countenance to save themselves the inconvenience of a leadership contest?

We need only look at how quickly this story has evolved to see – in the starkest possible terms – what a dragging force this prime minister is on their collective decency.

Initially, the defence was that there were no parties.

Now, we have Conservative MPs popping up on television to argue that it doesn’t really matter if the prime minister has broken the law.

While they are naval-gazing, the public are losing confidence. Trust in politicians has been in steady decline over many years.

In that context, Tory MPs who fail to act look negligent.

The short-term political fortunes of the Conservative Party should not be their overriding concern.

Perhaps they are rationalising their inaction by putting trust in the process that is underway and its likely outcome.

That suggests that the Met Police will conclude its investigation, Sue Gray will release her unredacted report and then the requisite letters threshold will be reached. Boris Johnson will then lose the vote of No Confidence and we can all move on.

That would be neat and tidy, but there are a lot of moving parts to consider.

Can Conservative MPs really afford to wait?

Boris Johnson has shown that he is willing to say and do anything to save his own skin. Their patience might be an act of mercy towards the prime minister that they come to regret.

This column originally appeared in our sister title, The National in Scotland. 

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