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Never has Boris Johnson said sorry so often, so publicly and with such a sombre demeanour. Tory MPs repeatedly sought to extenuate the mistake for which he was given a fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police.

“Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice,” was Othello’s last plea. Johnson did not make that argument in his statement, and would not be tempted, by dozens of supportive Conservatives, into making it as he took question after question.

Mark Harper (Con, Forest of Dean) was very far from supportive: “I no longer think he is worthy of the great office he holds.”

The Prime Minister did not rise to this, but instead continued to humble himself: “I bitterly regret the event in Downing Street as I said.”

This was a big day for Sir Keir Starmer. He began with the words: “What a joke!”

A difficult opening line. Sir Keir spoke it in the manner of a cook who has handed in his notice.

“They know what he is,” Sir Keir went on, indicating the Conservative benches.

“The Chancellor’s career up in flames,” he continued, as an example of how everything went wrong under Johnson.

But why should Sir Keir mind if the Chancellor’s career has gone up in flames? His aim, after all, was to make sure that Johnson’s career went down in flames, an objective not promoted by making implausible assertions.

“The Prime Minister knows what he is,” Sir Keir continued, still in infuriated cook mode.

He then brought in John Robinson, from Lichfield, who because of Covid rules could not be with his mortally ill wife: “John would have given the world to hold his dying wife’s hand even for nine minutes.”

Johnson nodded, more sombre even than Sir Keir. In July 2019, when he took office, I do not think Johnson would have been capable of this.

A thousand days later, he looks older and sadder, and no sign could be detected of his old habit of lightening a serious moment by making a joke.

By the time Paul Howell (Con, Sedgefield) said of Johnson’s offence, “I certainly do not think it is a resigning matter,” it was clear that most of those on the Tory benches agreed with this remark.

Stephen Kinnock (Lab, Aberavon) referred to the resignations of Neville Chamberlain and Margaret Thatcher. Johnson could not say, but many will have reflected, that Chamberlain’s resignation took place when this country was suffering a military catastrophe, and Thatcher’s when her government was split from head to toe on the European issue, and had introduced the perilously unpopular poll tax.

So the question of proportion hovered over all this. Johnson had spoken also of Ukraine, where great and terrible events are unfolding.

He declined to make the connection. Nor would his accusers, for they were intent on maintaining the highest moral tone. They had every right to do this, perhaps it was their duty to do this, but one could not help feeling that there was an element of willed indignation in some of their protestations.