Cabinet Office at loggerheads with Covid inquiry over Boris Johnson’s messages

Ministers are holding firm against demands from the Covid inquiry to release all of Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages.

The Cabinet Office has until 4pm tomorrow to respond to the request or risk legal action.

It has refused to hand over the messages on the grounds it would be a “serious intrusion of privacy” and warns releasing details that are ‘unambiguously irrelevant’ could set a harmful precedent.

A government source said it remained “confident in our approach” and has been “engaging closely with the inquiry” so far, handing over huge amounts of information.

Inquiry chairwoman Lady Hallett wants access to exchanges sent between January 2020 and February 2022.

She said the messages are of “potential relevance” to the inquiry’s “lines of investigation”.

The Cabinet Office has already provided more than 55,000 documents, 24 personal witness statements and eight corporate statements to the inquiry.

But the Government believes it has no duty to disclose “unambiguously irrelevant” material.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “We are fully committed to our obligations to the Covid-19 Inquiry.

“As such, extensive time and effort has gone into assisting the Inquiry fulsomely over the last 11 months.

“We will continue to provide all relevant material to the Inquiry, in line with the law, ahead of proceedings getting under way.”

The inquiry wants the details of exchanges between Mr Johnson and a host of government figures, civil servants and officials.

They include England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty, as well as then-chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

Messages with then-foreign secretary Liz Truss and then-health secretary Matt Hancock are also requested, as well as with former top aide Dominic Cummings and then-chancellor Rishi Sunak.

The inquiry had also asked for “copies of the 24 notebooks containing contemporaneous notes made by the former prime minister” in “clean unredacted form, save only for any redactions applied for reasons of national security sensitivity”.

It comes as Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak are expected to talk this week about a separate incident involving the Cabinet Office, which handed over details of visits to Chequers during the pandemic that it believed may have breached covid rules.

The diaries showed that he was visited by colleagues and friends at the grace and favour house during the pandemic.

Cabinet Office officials insist no minister was involved in the decision, which was taken by civil servants in line with the code of conduct they operate under.

Source: Read Full Article