When he wrote his infamous Telegraph column about Muslim women who wear the burka resembling letterboxes, Boris Johnson made an impassioned case against face coverings while also arguing against an outright burka ban.
"If a constituent came to my MP's surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly," the then future Prime Minister wrote in 2018.
"Human beings must be able to see each other's faces and read their expressions. It's how we work."
Having long opposed forcing anyone to do anything against their will, Mr Johnson undoubtedly went against his natural instincts when he made face coverings mandatory in shops this week. Anyone failing to comply with the order in England, which applies from July 24, could face a fine of up to £100.
After Emmanuel Macron announced that masks must soon be worn in all enclosed spaces in France, speculation is mounting that Britain will inevitably follow suit.
But will lifelong libertarian Mr Johnson – forced by the global pandemic to become uncharacteristically authoritarian – really insist on such a draconian measure? While it is tempting to presume that the answer to that question will depend on the science, in reality – to coin the Clintonesque catchphrase – it's about the economy, stupid.
Although there is some emerging scientific evidence to suggest that face coverings not only help stop transmission but also protect the wearer, the decision is being driven by fiscal, rather than health concerns.
As Matt Hancock admitted in the House of Commons on Tuesday, the Government wants to "make shoppers feel even more confident about returning to the High Street".
Quoting Mike Cherry, the chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, the Health Secretary said: "Small businesses know that mandatory face coverings have a role to play in the nation's recovery, both physically and financially."
Yet the tricky balance between encouraging people to feel safer when they are out shopping and not putting them off shopping altogether was exemplified by the Tory MP Desmond Swayne, who told Mr Hancock: "Nothing would make it less likely for me to go shopping than the thought of having to wear a mask."
Illustrating the war Conservatives have been having with themselves over this contentious issue, Mr Swayne, the member for New Forest West, described a face mask as a "monstrous imposition against myself" and said his constituents were outraged by the latest ruling.
Reflecting the thinking among less strident right-wingers in the party, Mr Hancock responded that the mask ruling was the best way to ensure "the ancient freedoms [of] a gentleman going shopping".
But with George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, refusing to rule out the mask policy being extended "in chunks", Downing Street is under no illusion that it is not only the public they need to persuade to cover up and venture out (see below) but also Mr Johnson's own MPs.
With the Prime Minister due to make another landmark speech on Friday, setting out the next phase of Britain's coronavirus response, the emphasis is expected to be placed firmly on recovery following Office for National Statistics figures suggesting the UK economy is 24.5 per cent smaller than it was in February.
According to one well-placed insider: "The face covering policy is all about giving the public confidence to set foot outside their own front door – and once they do that, the economy has got a fighting chance.
"It's just a reassurance policy. No one thinks they have that much impact on transmission rates, but there's a feeling that they don't do any harm and might finally persuade people to leave their houses."
When YouGov recently canvassed the public on what measures they had taken to protect themselves from Covid-19, 67 per cent said "avoiding public spaces", compared to 38 per cent who said "wearing a face mask", suggesting a great deal of anxiety still surrounds going back to any kind of normal.
As one Cabinet minister put it: "By virtue of the brevity and simplicity of the message, we knew 'Stay Home' was going to be effective. It was always going to be much more difficult presenting the public with a myriad of different choices when it came to lifting the lockdown."
The prevarication over face coverings, however, continues to raise eyebrows. A recent study by the Royal Society found that the UK was trailing behind other countries on the issue,with the World Health Organisation having recommended the wearing of masks in public spaces back in June.
This week's announcement – which fits in with the Government's policy of reducing the social distancing rule to "one metre plus mitigation" – is designed to reassure shielded people who are preparing to be released from lockdown from the end of this month.
Number 10 also believes that encouraging people to use face coverings now means they will become second nature by winter. It follows a report warning that the coronavirus reproduction 'R' rate could rise by 1.7 by September, with a "reasonable worst-case scenario" of 119,000 deaths come January and February – twice as many as the first wave.
But in the event of a second virus wave, the consensus appears to be that a second lockdown "is not an option" – economically or otherwise – effectively leaving face coverings as Britain's last line of defence against coronavirus until a vaccine is found.
As has been the case throughout this crisis, Mr Johnson may once again be forced to sacrifice his libertarian principles in order to secure the nation's freedom from this deadly virus.