SHARP intakes of breath echoed around the chandelier adorned St Ermin’s hotel in Westminster. I turned to the journalist next to me and we both looked at each other in total disbelief.
After leading the troops into Brexit, and a subsequent constitutional crisis, Boris Johnson was announcing he was not going to run as the next leader of the Conservatives.
Usually the rumour mill explodes just before a key speech begins with the punch-line leaked to the press. But I can confirm it came like a bolt out of Tory Party blue.
Compared to Stephen Crabb’s leadership bid, Mr Johnson’s press launch was supposed to be a splendid affair. A room with fresh flowers and soft lighting and at a hotel steeped in history. It was the place the notorious Cambridge Five double agents Philby and MacLean met their Russian handlers.
Yet when he emerged from a side door, just an hour after his Vote Leave co-bucaneer Michael Gove threw his hat in the ring, he looked like death warmed up. The soft-focus lighting was suddenly harsh, washing him out, making him look thinner and smaller.
He was ushered out of the room before the press could descend, leaving his supporters bewildered.
Mr Johnson, the arch game player, had been double crossed in a political manouvre worthy of its St Ermin’s setting. For the history books, I imagine team Boris wish they had booked a different hotel.