Covid Inquiry Extends Deadline To UK Government Over Demanded Boris Johnson’s Whassap Messages And Diary Entires

Covid Inquiry Extends Deadline To UK Government Over Demanded Boris Johnson’s Whassap Messages And Diary Entires

By Ben Kerrigan

The covid  inquiry had extended the deadline to the government to hand over the whassap messages – alongside diary entries and notes – by 4pm on Tuesday 30 May.

The deadline has now set been 4pm on Thursday 1 June. The Cabinet Office asked for an extension to 5 June as they do not have access to Mr Johnson’s messages or notebooks, but this was rejected

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Officials are preparing to issue a response to the inquiry chair, Heather Hallett, by 4pm on Tuesday, resisting her demand for a cache of documents relating to the former prime minister’s time in No 10.

The news comes before an expected meeting later this week between Johnson and the prime minster, Rishi Sunak, to give the pair a chance to clear the air over the row about new Partygate evidence being handed to police.

Lady Hallett has demanded the full cache of messages and diaries be handed over to her inquiry two weeks before the first public evidence sessions, but the government is refusing to comply.

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The covid inquiry is asking for Copies of 24 unredacted notebooks filled in by Mr Johnson between 1 January 2020 and 24 February 2022, and unredacted messages sent and received by adviser Henry Cook between 1 January 2020 and 24 February 2022.

The inquiry also wants messages – even from group chats – about the government response to COVID, as well as contact with a list of certain experts, ministers, civil servants and advisers

Lawyers for the Cabinet Office are said to have advised that the Covid inquiry does not have the powers to request access to all documents, raising the prospect of legal arbitration and a potential judicial review.

The deadline to hand over the evidence has now been extended until Thursday afternoon before the government faces being dragged to court by its own Covid-19 inquiry.

Ministers initially had until 4pm on Tuesday to respond to a demand by the inquiry to turn over the official records showing what was going on in government during the pandemic

The Covid-19 inquiry rejected a request to extend the deadline to hand over Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages and notebooks until June 5 but agreed to a short extension to 4pm on Thursday.

The government has so far refused to release some material, claiming it is “unambiguously irrelevant” to the inquiry – but Baroness Hallett, who is leading the probe, says she needs to see it.

Mr Johnson is reported to have cited national security and argued that releasing his diaries would breach government rules on disclosure.

However, the former prime minister has written to the Cabinet Office to demand the government requests in writing access to his messages and notes – which he says has not happened yet. The orders have been made under a sec 21 order.

Breaking a section 21 order could see the government face criminal proceedings, and there is also potential for a court battle over whether the information should be passed to the inquiry.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke just before the inquiry’s announcement, in which he said the “government is carefully considering its position, but it is confident in the approach that it’s taking”.

The battle between the parties centres on messages Mr Johnson sent and received, as well as his diaries and his notebooks from during the pandemic.

Baroness Hallett, the chair of the inquiry, made an order under section 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005 for the material to be handed over by the Cabinet Office.

Messages to and from former adviser Henry Cook were also included in the legal action

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