5 key takeaways from row over Boris Johnson’s Covid inquiry WhatsApp

The government has been threatened with legal action by its own Covid inquiry – over failure to provide it with vital documents it says it needs to do its job.

Here’s what you need to know about the row:

What was asked in the Kovid investigation?

An inquiry into Britain’s handling of the pandemic was announced by Boris Johnson in May 2021. But now he wants more information about what the Prime Minister was saying privately at that time.

The Covid inquiry asked the government to provide “WhatsApp communications recorded on devices owned or used by Boris Johnson”, including exchanges between senior government ministers, senior civil servants and their advisers during the pandemic.

These messages were to include both groupchats and messages between individuals. The chats include discussions with the Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Chris Whitty, the then Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and Simon Stevens, the former head of the NHS.

It also asked for the former prime minister’s diaries from the same period as well as notebooks that “contain his contemporary notes”. It has also sought WhatsApp messages from Henry Cook, a consultant.

Why does the investigation want them?

The inquiry says it needs the messages and notes because their contents would shed light on “key political and administrative decision-making by the UK government during the pandemic”.

More generally, the inquiry seeks to ensure that “all relevant material of these documents is disclosed” – rather than leaving it to the government to decide which parts are relevant. Baroness Hallett, who is leading the inquiry, has also suggested that this approach is important to maintain public trust.

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It is also clear in the inquiry that she does not want the message only about Kovid.

The inquiry chairman said, “For reasons of context it may be necessary for me to consider other (superficially unrelated) political matters which were concerned at the time.”

What did the Cabinet Office do?

The government has not handed over the complete information. Instead, it provided extracts – which were revised by the Cabinet Office’s legal team.

The Cabinet Office claims the redaction relates to “apparently irrelevant material”, and the inquiry has no power to order its release.

But the government department provided copies of “a select, unredacted form of the material” so that the inquiry could “satisfy itself that the corrections made earlier in this particular set of material were necessary on the basis that they covered information It was clearly irrelevant to the work of the investigation”.

How did you answer the inquiry?

The inquiry chairman says it is not doing enough and that the government has “misunderstood the breadth of the inquiry I am carrying out”.

It issued a legal notice ordering the handover of the documents.

“The main flaw, as it seems to me, is that it wrongly assigns to the holder of the documents, rather than the inquiry chair, the final decision on whether the documents are or are not potentially relevant to the inquiry’s enquiry,” she wrote. .

Baroness Hallett has extended the deadline for the Cabinet Office to provide documents until 4pm on 30 May 2023.

What has Boris Johnson said?

Boris Johnson has not yet commented directly on the matter. But we do know that he has fired his government-appointed lawyers who were representing him in the Covid investigation.

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Aides say their confidence in the Cabinet Office has eroded because of a separate incident in which the department reported to the police, which has led to them being placed under investigation for renewed Covid lockdown breaches.

The opinion of the former Prime Minister may seem strange in the context of this episode, in which the Cabinet Office is clearly trying to hand over at least some of his information to the investigation.

Meanwhile, the opposition is creating a ruckus. Labor Party deputy leader Angela Rayner said that “the fact that the Covid inquiry has had to use legal powers to compel it to hand over vital documents suggests that this is a government that has much to hide.” there is too much”.

“Instead of fighting a legal battle to hide evidence, it is imperative that ministers comply now so that the public has access to the truth and those responsible are held accountable,” he added.

The government says it is “committed to the investigation and to its obligations in line with the law” but that it is “our position that the investigation does not have the power to compel the government to disclose material that is clearly irrelevant”.


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