DAILY MAIL COMMENT: If there’s one lesson from this pitiful farrago, it’s that such a sweeping affront to our liberties must never happen again

You could almost hear the piteous wails of grief ringing across the newsrooms of the BBC and Guardian. That strangely rhythmic, thudding sound? Could it have been those two mad professors Dominic Cummings and ITV’s Robert Peston banging their heads on their desks in exasperation?

And the high priests of lockdown from SAGE and beyond must have ground their teeth so ferociously that the nation’s dentists should be rubbing their hands with glee.

Our thoughts are with them all at this difficult and distressing time.

For at precisely 10.43am yesterday, the massed ranks of Boris-haters discovered that months of hysteria, hyperbole and confected rage had come to nothing.

The Partygate inquiry was over and it had ended with a whimper rather than the bang they had longed for. Their desperate ploy to unseat the Prime Minister had failed.

After an entirely pointless Scotland Yard investigation, lasting four months, involving 12 detectives and costing an eye-popping £460,000, Boris Johnson received just one paltry fine.

Even that was a travesty. Two months after he almost died from Covid, No 10 colleagues surprised him with a birthday cake between work meetings in the Cabinet room.

The Partygate inquiry was over and it had ended with a whimper rather than the bang they had longed for. Their desperate ploy to unseat the Prime Minister had failed. After an entirely pointless Scotland Yard investigation, lasting four months, involving 12 detectives and costing an eye-popping £460,000, Boris Johnson received just one paltry fine

Two months after he almost died from Covid, No 10 colleagues surprised him with a birthday cake between work meetings in the Cabinet room. Boris was there for just nine minutes. His then fiancée, Carrie, carrying their baby boy in her arms, was there for less than five. Pictured: Mr Johnson poses with a cake at a school in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire on June 19, 2020

Boris was there for just nine minutes. His then fiancée, Carrie, carrying their baby boy in her arms, was there for less than five.

The cake never left its Tupperware box and no drink was taken. Yet not only was Mr Johnson hit with a £50 penalty for breaching lockdown rules, but so was his Chancellor.

Rishi Sunak’s crime was to have arrived early for his meeting and joined in an impromptu chorus of Happy Birthday for his boss. What on earth was he supposed to do? Run off and call 999?

This whole saga has been farcical. Yes, they made the rules and we are now told this was a technical breach. But the idea that this was, in any sense, a party is preposterous.

Rishi Sunak’s crime was to have arrived early for his meeting and joined in an impromptu chorus of Happy Birthday for his boss. What on earth was he supposed to do? Run off and call 999?

And the notion there was some deliberate, sustained and contemptuous flouting of restrictions — as Labour would have us believe —equally so.

At the time, Mr Johnson and his staff were engaged in a round-the-clock battle against the worst global health emergency in a century.

While the rest of Britain was working (or not!) from home, they were at their desks in Downing Street trying to save lives and protect the NHS.

They were toiling together in necessarily close proximity. Who would begrudge them some food and a drink at the end of a tough and deeply stressful day?

As the PM has consistently said, they did not believe — and were not advised by senior civil servants — that they were doing anything wrong.

There were exemptions from lockdown rules for those in a ‘work bubble’ and they assumed that on this basis their gatherings were above board. That they were apparently mistaken shows how baffling and draconian the rules were.

Just ask Sir Keir Starmer. With puce-faced piety, Labour’s leader has characterised Mr Johnson as the ringmaster of an endless circus of drunken revelry at the heart of government.

More than anyone, he put the bellows under this sorry affair, openly branding the Prime Minister a liar and charlatan who had stuck two fingers up to the British public. By contrast, he painted himself as a paragon — a man of unimpeachable integrity.

How hollow and hubristic he looks today. With Durham police investigating his own glaring Covid breach, his moral high horse has reared up and thrown him off. Indeed, his rule-breaking ‘Beergate’ party is far more egregious than Boris’s nine-minute birthday episode. It was a pre-planned, restrictions-busting event about which he has changed his story and dissembled from day one.

He has finally been rumbled for the sanctimonious prig he is and is now wriggling like a worm on a hook. And his attempt to retrieve his reputation has spectacularly backfired.

He clearly thought that pledging to resign if the police fined him was a clever chess move, putting pressure on Mr Johnson to do the same.

Embittered Remainers took this as a cue to excitedly prophesy the PM’s downfall, and Tory leadership hopefuls such as Jeremy Hunt were emboldened to flaunt their credentials.

But with yesterday’s developments, the game has changed dramatically.

With puce-faced piety, Labour’s leader has characterised Mr Johnson as the ringmaster of an endless circus of drunken revelry at the heart of government. More than anyone, he put the bellows under this sorry affair, openly branding the Prime Minister a liar and charlatan who had stuck two fingers up to the British public

While Mr Johnson is effectively out of the woods, with even critical Tory backbenchers falling in behind him, Sir Keir remains mired in his own police probe with the threat of self-enforced resignation hanging over him.

Let’s be clear, the Mail doesn’t believe either man should have to quit over the Covid breaches themselves. As the level of Scotland Yard fines demonstrates, they were unintentional and trivial.

However, Sir Keir has made such a political mountain out of this molehill that he has been the architect of his own misfortune.

He loves to claim that while ordinary people were banned from visiting dying relatives, Downing Street employees were ignoring their own restrictions and whooping it up.

This is a completely false narrative. This was drinks after work, not crashing into care homes with streamers and party hats. Many of the 200 staff will have suffered bereavement and family illness during lockdown — and abided by the same overweening restrictions.

With the puritanical zeal of a Witch-finder General, Sir Keir relentlessly denounced Mr Johnson as being unfit to hold high office. He has been hoist with his own pompous petard. From being the hunter, he has become the hunted and must now wait nervously for Durham Constabulary to pass its judgment on him.

But why on earth were the police involved at all? God knows, they have more important things to do than hand out the equivalent of parking tickets to politicians and their apparatchiks.

In the four-month period Scotland Yard was wasting time and precious resources in Downing Street, London was in the grip of a crime wave.

But why on earth were the police involved at all? God knows, they have more important things to do than hand out the equivalent of parking tickets to politicians and their apparatchiks

More than quarter of a million offences were committed, including killings, rapes, robberies, burglaries and violent assaults.

How many were detected? A derisory 12 per cent — less than one in eight. Where is the sense of priority?

Senior civil servant Sue Gray, who conducted the Cabinet Office inquiry into Partygate, also carries responsibility for stringing out this painful fiasco for so long.

She didn’t have to involve the police and shouldn’t have done so. The offences were so inconsequential they didn’t warrant the boys in blue barging into Downing Street.

She should have dealt with it all herself, reported promptly and put this whole mess to bed. Instead we have had four months of political limbo at the worst possible time — and her full findings still haven’t been published.

How on earth has it come to this? Europe is in a state of war, inflation is raging and a cost-of-living crunch is growing on a scale not seen here since the 1980s.

Northern Ireland is in crisis over the botched Protocol, there’s no end in sight to the flood of migrants crossing the Channel and militant transport unions are threatening to bring the country to a grinding halt.

All over the world, mystified onlookers must think we’ve taken leave of our senses. Instead of tackling the real problems that affect ordinary people, our political class has been obsessed with cheese and wine parties.

If Russian tanks had been at the gates of Paris, one feels the BBC would still have led its bulletins on Partygate — such is its loathing of the PM. And Labour would have been cheering it on.

During the pandemic, the British state imposed unprecedented constraints on the liberties we cherish.

When visiting dying relatives or drinking a cup of coffee on a park bench in open countryside becomes a criminal offence, something has gone terribly wrong.

The restrictions inflicted huge damage to the economy, children’s education and the public health. And latest evidence seriously questions whether they had much real effect.

If there is one lesson we must learn from this pitiful farrago, it is that such a sweeping affront to freedom can never be allowed to happen again.

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