Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

Boris bypasses ministers and hands messages to inquiry

Boris Johnson denies rule breaking at Chequers

Defiant Boris Johnson yesterday said he has handed over all his uncensored messages and notes to the official Covid inquiry despite Government attempts to block their release.

He told inquiry chairwoman Baroness Hallett he would also release messages that are on an old mobile phone he stopped using due to a security breach.

The messages on the device refer to discussions from before May 2021 and are likely to relate to conversations about the three lockdowns ordered in 2020.

It comes as ministers prepare for a legal battle as they seek to challenge the request for Mr Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages and notebooks.

The former Prime Minister told Baron-ess Hallett in a letter: “I am sending your inquiry all unredacted WhatsApps I provided to the Cabinet Office.

“I would like to do the same with any material that may be on an old phone which I have previously been told I can no longer access safely. In view of the urgency of your request I believe we need to test this advice which came from the security services.”

He also told the former senior judge he would ask for his unredacted notebooks back from the Cabinet Office and share them with the inquiry panel if the Government refuses to do so.

While serving as PM in 2021, Mr Johnson was forced to change his mobile after it emerged his number had been publicly available online for 15 years.

The potential risks of switching on the device are “minimal”, according to a cyber security expert. Professor Alan Woodward, from Surrey University, said the Cabinet Office has the facilities to “do it securely”, adding: “It really wouldn’t take much to turn the
phone on and get those messages off quite safely”.

The Cabinet Office missed a Thursday deadline to hand over the messages and notebooks without any omissions. It then announced it was bringing a judicial review challenge “with regret”.

It has promised to “continue to co-operate fully with the inquiry before, during and after the jurisdictional issue in question is determined by the courts”.

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That will centre on whether Lady Hallett’s probe has the power to force ministers to release details which officials believe are “unambiguously irrelevant” to the Government’s handling of Covid.

Former No10 chief-of-staff Lord Barwell said: “Some of the messages might be a bit embarrassing but, nonetheless, I think they’re making a bad mistake.

“It’s important that we get to the truth. And if we can’t see how the Government made the decisions it made, how it got to the point that it did, then people are not going to have confidence in the outcome of the inquiry.”

The Lib Dems have said that they will table a motion to force the Government’s hand in the Commons next week calling for “all material” requested by the national virus probe to be released. The inquiry said it would not comment on Mr Johnson’s letter.

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