No 10 fails to deny that Boris Johnson still uses WhatsApp to talk with Mohammed bin Salman

Messages exchanged with Saudi crown prince were blamed for hacking of Jeff Bezos’ phone

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 16 March 2022 14:23
Comments
Boris Johnson justifies Saudi visit as attempt to build 'widest possible coalition' against Putin

No 10 has refused to deny that Boris Johnson uses WhatsApp to communicate with Mohammed bin Salman – despite messages exchanged with the Saudi crown prince being blamed for the hacking of Jeff Bezos’ phone.

The prime minister is in Saudi Arabia, hoping to exploit his “personal relationship” with the controversial leader to persuade him to open the oil taps, to ease the energy crisis sparked by the Ukraine war.

The pair are reported to still be in “regular WhatsApp contact”, in stark contrast to the prince refusing to take a phone call from Joe Biden, because of fierce US criticism of him.

Ministers have repeatedly been criticised, including by the Information Commissioner, for using private emails and social media to carry out official government business.

And there is particular alarm over the use of WhatsApp to talk with bin Salman – after the Amazon founder was apparently sent a video containing a malicious file to infiltrate his phone.

Asked if it is correct that Mr Johnson, nevertheless, has kept open his WhatsApp link, his spokesman claimed “security matters” prevented him from answering.

“What I can say is I’ve talked, on a number of occasions, about the rules around how ministers, including the prime minister, uses those forms of communication,” he said.

“The substantive government business is passed on through the private office – that that is what takes place.”

The spokesman said it is “beneficial to the UK that we have strong relations with world leaders”, but added: “Beyond that, I won’t get into that in more detail.”

The two leaders are known to have communicated privately as bin Salman sought to apply pressure to allow the Saudi-financed takeover of Newcastle United football club, last year.

The prince urged Mr Johnson to intervene to “correct” the Premier League’s “wrong” decision to block the deal – reportedly threatening that UK-Saudi Arabian relations would be damaged otherwise.

The prime minister asked Edward Lister, his special envoy for the Gulf, to take up the issue, who reportedly then told the prime minister: “I’m on the case. I will investigate.”

Mr Bezos is thought to have been having a conversation with bin Salman when he was sent the video that contained the malicious file.

It was claimed “large amounts of data” were acquired within hours, according to the investigation into the hacking which was reportedly carried out on the businessman’s behalf.

In February 2019, Mr Bezos accused the National Enquirer of “extortion and Blackmail”, after the tabloid published texts between the billionaire and his girlfriend.

Mr Johnson has promised to raise human rights concerns in his talks with the prince – but Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said the UK “cannot afford” to turn its back on Saudi oil.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in