UK Government to launch legal action to stop Covid inquiry seeing Boris Johnson's WhatsApps

The Cabinet Office is seeking to stop the inquiry seeing Boris Johnson’s unredacted Whatsapp messages.

The UK Government is set to launch a legal battle over the Covid inquiry’s demand to release Boris Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages, diaries and personal notebooks.

Hours after the Prime Minister refused to rule out legal action, the Cabinet Office announced it was seeking a judicial review of inquiry chairwoman Baroness Hallett’s order to release the documents, arguing that it should not have to hand over material that is “unambiguously irrelevant”.

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In a letter to the inquiry, released after a 4pm deadline to hand over the material, the Cabinet Office announced it would be seeking a judicial review.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of wanting to keep the Covid inquiry in the dark.Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of wanting to keep the Covid inquiry in the dark.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of wanting to keep the Covid inquiry in the dark.

The letter said: “We do so with regret and with an assurance that we will continue to co-operate fully with the inquiry before, during and after the jurisdictional issue in question is determined by the courts, specifically whether the inquiry has the power to compel production of documents and messages which are unambiguously irrelevant to the inquiry’s work, including personal communications and matters unconnected to the Government’s handling of Covid.

“We consider there to be important issues of principle at stake here, affecting both the rights of individuals and the proper conduct of government. The request for unambiguously irrelevant material goes beyond the powers of the inquiry.

“Individuals, junior officials, current and former ministers and departments should not be required to provide material that is irrelevant to the inquiry’s work. It represents an unwarranted intrusion into other aspects of the work of government.

“It also represents an intrusion into their legitimate expectations of privacy and protection of their personal information.”

However, Mr Johnson’s notebooks will be shared with the Covid inquiry in batches as the Cabinet Office did not have enough time to redact them for national security purposes.

The Cabinet Office said: “The section 21 notice stipulated that these should be ‘provided in clean unredacted form, save only for any redactions applied for reasons of national security sensitivity’.

“The Cabinet Office was given permission by Boris Johnson on the morning of May 31 to take possession of these notebooks, and did so immediately. Despite working through all of the day and most of the night, it has not been possible to conclude in full the required specialised review for national security purposes.

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“We will share in batches the appropriately redacted copies of notebooks as they are completed, with the balance due in two working days.”

In a sign of how late the decision was made, just 45 minutes before the 4pm deadline, the Prime Minister could not say whether the Government would have over the messages, instead insisting they were considering the next steps.

The decision to launch a judicial review of Ms Hallett’s request now risks fuelling allegations of a cover-up, with the Lib Dems labelling the Government “cowards”.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “This cowardly attempt to obstruct a vital public inquiry is a kick in the teeth for bereaved families who’ve already waited far too long for answers.

Rishi Sunak's promise to govern with integrity and accountability has been left in tatters.

“The government is delaying the inquiry even further and clogging up court time, all to prevent Sunak and his Conservative colleagues from having to release their messages.”



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