Was Tuesday’s broadcast interview the moment the prime minister admitted – in his body language and demeanour rather than his words – that the game could be up?
Appearing for the first time in public after nearly a week, to face further accusations over Downing Street parties and exactly what he knew about when, he looked defeated.
The list of questions was difficult, and the pressure, dismay and distress were plain to see in Boris Johnson‘s expressions and his body language – even with a mask on – as he repeatedly dropped his head.
Boris Johnson says ‘nobody told me’ Number 10 lockdown garden party was against the rules
Did Dominic Cummings personally tell the PM the 20 May party was a bad idea? A second No 10 source has corroborated Mr Cummings’ account to me and said they also believe the PM was warned.
And if so, did the PM lie to parliament? Will he resign if it emerges that he did mislead parliament and is he worried his MPs are preparing to oust him?
It was also the first time he’d appeared in public since reports emerged – not denied by Downing Street – of two boozy parties at No 10 the night before the Queen laid her husband Prince Philip to rest after 73 years of marriage.
Did the prime minister feel shame about that?
“I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened,” he said, breathing heavily behind a face mask, his eyes appearing to water.
Which lockdown parties is Sue Gray investigating, and what has Downing Street said about them?
“I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country for misjudgements that were made, and for which I take full responsibility.”
And then on the matter of the “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden when social gathering had been explicitly banned by Mr Johnson and his team, the PM said in the interview that “nobody said to me that this was an event that is against the rules” ahead of time, challenging Mr Cummings’ version of events.
But even if he hadn’t know then – and what he knew when will be pored over when Sue Gray reports – how could he not see that tables laid up in the garden with food and booze and 40 attendees wasn’t a party?
Does he really need Ms Gray to tell him that?
Isn’t that a ridiculous defence that people will see straight through, particularly given that in May 2020 there wasn’t any such thing as a “work event” anyhow. People were not allowed to socialise at work or in their own homes.
On Wednesday, Mr Johnson will face more questions at PMQs.
Sir Keir Starmer will no doubt ask the PM to repeat this denials about being alerted to the danger of the No 10 event ahead of time, in order to get it on the record in the House of Commons.
If evidence emerges to the contrary, the situation takes on another turn with even his chancellor acknowledging when pressed on Tuesday that “the ministerial code is clear on these matters” when asked whether the PM should resign if he’s lied to parliament.
The atmosphere is beyond awful in parliament. Everyone is on edge.
There are a handful of MPs who have gone out to defend the PM, but the mood is desperate.
One senior Conservative told me this afternoon that he cannot find one person who doesn’t think it’s over for the PM and it’s just a question of time.
“The question is when enough decide they want it over and how quickly,” one figure told me.
“Those most focused are the ones facing local elections in May and are asking themselves whether they want to lose loads of councillors before they move against him or to go earlier.”
Another MP from the 2019 intake also told Sky News they think they are “nearly there” when it comes to these matters and believe the weekend was a turning point.
This particular MP said they give the PM “a week” before things move.
Of course, much will depend on the Gray report and also whether more revelations drip out in the coming days – Dominic Cummings has alluded to photos while MPs whisper about talk of even more parties in Downing Street.
But based on Tuesday’s performance, you have to wonder whether the PM fears his time is up too?
He will no doubt keep on fighting for as long as he can, and hope that Sue Gray’s report will give him enough cover to escape the corner he’s in.
Perhaps it will come down to a “he said, she said” account of events with two men – Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings – giving their version of what happened and there is no smoking gun or piece of evidence that condemns the PM.
But even if – and it’s a very big if – the PM can survive Partygate, can he ever recover the public’s trust?
If his party concludes the electorate will not forgive nor forget, he will not be able to stay on as PM, whatever Sue Gray’s findings reveal.
Mr Johnson is used to chaos, but finding himself entirely out of control of events is something dangerous and new.