WHATEVER happened to Operation Arse?

This was the indelicately phrased Scottish Conservative campaign to stop at all costs Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson succeeding Theresa May and getting his hands on the Tory crown.

“We called it that so we’d all be clear who we were talking about,” declared one of the founders at the alcohol-infused birth of the Anyone But Boris push during last autumn’s Tory conference.

But now as the Prime Minister's days in No 10 are numbered, one senior party source has suggested this crusade to stop the hard Brexiteer and preserve the party as a moderate, Centre Right, One Nation, Unionist party has been quietly “dismantled”.

The reason is simple: Boris is going to win.

A poll yesterday had the tousled-haired Old Etonian as the odds-on favourite. The English shire Tories love him. And it is hard to find anyone, admirer or detractor, at Westminster, who does now not believe the contest to succeed Theresa May is his to lose.

Gavin Williamson, the former Defence Secretary, who lost his job leaking sensitive information about Huawei to a journalist – allegedly – has swiftly come out to back Mr Johnson for the leadership. The more cynical among us might think the Staffordshire MP wants his old job back.

In the fine tradition of political survival people are not just nuancing their previous views about the former Foreign Secretary but having what appears to be a Damascene conversion about the new Tory Messiah.

None more so, it would seem, than his old chum who became known as the “assassin,” killing off Mr Johnson’s previous foreshortened bid to succeed David Cameron.

In July 2016 Michael Gove, co-leader of the Brexit cause, made clear: “Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”

When pressed on why he had so publicly destroyed his old friend’s chances of getting into No 10, the Scot said he “could not in all conscience” recommend Mr Johnson as PM.

“It would have been a genuine betrayal of principle and of this country to have allowed Boris’s candidacy to go ahead with my support,” he declared.

Yet this week Mr Gove was singing a different tune. Gone were the doubts; replaced by gushing praise.

Noting how “history is history,” he told the BBC: “Boris has served as Foreign Secretary with distinction. I enjoyed working with him. I have huge admiration for him… I’ve always had tremendous affection for him.”

Boris Johnson,” Mr Gove declared, “is a Conservative of flair, elan, distinction and intellect.”

But he is not the only top Tory who appears to be trying desperately to recalibrate their previous position on Mr Johnson.

Earlier this week, Ruth Davidson, seeking to displace Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister, made clear she could work with the leading Brexiteer, whom she clashed with during the 2016 campaign.

"I have worked with him when he was Foreign Secretary. I will work with whoever the Prime Minister is. I will genuinely judge him on the same criteria as I judge any of the candidates."

But Ms Sturgeon was having none of it and told MSPs: “Ruth Davidson, of course, use to call Boris Johnson names that I can't repeat in this chamber; now she is cosying up to…the arch-Brexiteer.

“It is just a pity that flip-flopping is not an Olympic sport because Ruth Davidson would be a guaranteed gold medal winner," quipped Ms Sturgeon.

Last year, David Mundell was quoted as saying that he would find it “extremely difficult” to serve in a Johnson Cabinet and added: “Mr Johnson and I don’t agree on a whole range of issues and I don’t see myself being able to serve in that way.”

Which seemed pretty clear but this newspaper was told that the Scottish Secretary had never said he would not serve in a Johnson Cabinet.

Earlier this month, Mr Mundell called on the Nationalists to “stop demonising” his esteemed colleague.

Indeed, there were unconfirmed reports doing the rounds at Westminster that the Scottish Secretary and Mr Johnson had a private meeting only yesterday.

To minimise trouble, the approach being taken is that if Mr Johnson entered No 10, Ms Davidson and Mr Mundell would seek a contractual relationship, whereby the new-PM would “sub-contract” anything Scottish to his colleagues.

Or to put it another way, the plan would be to keep their new leader as far away from Scotland and Scottish politics as would be humanly possible.

The reason? The blonde Beatle is toxic north of the border. The fear is he could “kill off” Ms Davidson’s chances of becoming FM.

One Scottish Tory MP warned that a Johnson premiership would “gift-wrap independence” for the Yes movement.

Another claimed the London MP had never shown interest in either Scotland or the Union. “Sometimes he comes across as more of an English nationalist than a Unionist."

Indeed, when it was put to a minister that during the two-year independence referendum campaign, the Old Etonian – who in recent times has portrayed himself as a great defender of the Union - was never spotted once in Scotland. “There is a reason for that,” noted the minister, “he wasn’t allowed to.” The feeling was he would do more harm than good.

Indeed, Stephen Kerr, the Conservative MP for Stirling, suggested a Johnson premiership could encourage the move towards the Scottish Tories becoming more autonomous from the London-based party.

For some, he argued, it would necessitate a "repositioning of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party within the Conservative family"; a bit like the CDU/CSU relationship in Germany.

Already the prospect of Mr Johnson succeeding Theresa May has got the SNP leadership considering the political possibilities.

Ms Sturgeon and her colleagues are, on the one hand, saying how horrifying it would be for Scotland to have the arch-Brexiteer leading the UK but, on the other, are inwardly rejoicing that it would, to use the FM’s own words, “sky-rocket” the fortunes of Scottish independence.

But for the Conservative Establishment looking at the numbers, Operation Arse appears to have become Operation Hero. Its message appears to be: bring on Boris.