Confident Boris Johnson Says He Has Given All Whatsapp Messages To Covid Inquiry And Holds Nothing Back

Confident Boris Johnson Says He Has Given All Whatsapp Messages To Covid Inquiry And Holds Nothing Back

By Ben Kerrigan-

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson confidentaly  says he has given the UK government all the WhatsApp messages and notebooks demanded by the Covid-19 inquiry.

Mr Johnson(pictured) is urging the government to hand the material to the inquiry in full, without redactions.

The former Prime Minister’s spokesman issued a statement saying: “All Boris Johnson’s material – including WhatsApps and notebooks – requested by the Covid Inquiry has been handed to the Cabinet Office in full and in unredacted form.

“Mr Johnson urges the Cabinet Office to urgently disclose it to the Inquiry.

“The Cabinet Office has had access to this material for several months.

“Mr Johnson would immediately disclose it directly to the Inquiry if asked.

“While Mr Johnson understands the Government’s position, and does not seek to contradict it, he is perfectly happy for the Inquiry to have access to this material in whatever form it requires.

The inquiry, which begins public hearings in two weeks, is investigating  ministers handling of the pandemic.

The cabinet office objected to the release of “unambiguously irrelevant” material and claimed they did not actually have access to it.

William Wragg, who chairs the Commons constitutional affairs committee, said the inquiry had “the powers and authority to request evidence it sees fit to consider”, and that the Cabinet Office should “comply with both the spirit and the letter of how the inquiry is constituted”.

Robert Buckland, a former justice secretary, instead called for a compromise “to avoid an ugly turf war”. “There needs to be disclosure with agreed redactions,” he said. “I support the government argument about the need for ministers and officials to work in a safe space but the inquiry has agreed terms of reference and is entitled to ask for material relevant to the ambit of its work.”

The Covid inquiry has given the Cabinet Office – the department that supports the prime minister in running the government – until 16:00 BST on Thursday to disclose all of the information it has requested.

The Cabinet Office  says  ministers must have the right to discuss policies in private and says a leading lawyer is in the process of deciding what is relevant to the inquiry.

But the inquiry’s chairwoman, crossbench peer Baroness Hallett, said it was her role, not that of the government, to decide what was relevant.

The standoff could lead to a legal battle between the Cabinet Office and the inquiry, with the courts deciding what material is made available.

Some senior Conservative MPs have urged the government to back down to avoid a lengthy legal showdown with the inquiry.

William Wragg, the chairman of a parliamentary committee on constitutional affairs, told the BBC: “If the inquiry requests documents and info – then whoever it has asked should comply.”

Mr Johnson’s spokesman has said the former PM would hand over the material directly to the Covid inquiry if asked.

Cabinet Office sources have stressed that individuals are at liberty to share any information with the inquiry team, so Mr Johnson could choose to hand things over directly.

The exception, they say, are documents such as government diaries which they argue any government would need to look at for national security reasons.

Mr Johnson’s spokesperson has claimed that the Cabinet Office has had access to all these unredacted documents for “months”, but has said the former PM handed over more material on Wednesday.

“While Mr Johnson understands the government’s position, and does not seek to contradict it, he is perfectly happy for the inquiry to have access to this material in whatever form it requires,” the spokesman said.

The Cabinet Office said it had received the material from Mr Johnson and “officials are looking at it”.

The material includes 24 notebooks with contemporaneous notes, as well as his diaries and WhatsApp messages between Mr Johnson and cabinet ministers, advisers and senior civil servants.

The inquiry said on Tuesday it had been told the Cabinet Office did not have access to all the information it had been asked for.

Cabinet Office sources say the reason for this, contrary to what Mr Johnson has claimed, is because the former PM was previously working with lawyers employed by the government who were working through his notebooks, diaries and WhatsApp messages.

But they say when Mr Johnson cut ties with those lawyers, the Cabinet Office lost access to those documents.

The BBC has been told the Cabinet Office legal team visited Mr Johnson’s office to inspect the notebooks.

The Liberal Democrats urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to submit the material requested by the inquiry and to stop using Mr Johnson “as an excuse to avoid handing over vital evidence”.

There has been friction between Mr Sunak’s government and Mr Johnson over the Cabinet Office’s decision to refer him to police over further potential Covid rule breaches during the pandemic.

The Cabinet Office said it made the referral following a review of his official diary by government lawyers as part of the Covid inquiry.

The former PM has dismissed claims of any breaches as a “politically motivated stitch-up”.

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