Boris Johnson has told the Covid-19 Inquiry that he is willing to hand over “all unredacted WhatsApp” messages – including 2020 material from a previous phone discarded for security reasons.
The former prime minister is under fire once again after it emerged on Thursday that he had only handed over Covid-related messages from May 2021 or later to Cabinet Office officials.
In a letter to inquiry chair Baroness Hallett, Mr Johnson said he would today hand over all the material already given to the Cabinet Office “in unredacted form” to her team.
Science minister George Freeman, appearing on BBC Question Time, insisted the Cabinet Office decision to launch judicial review proceedings was not a “cynical waste of time” but admitted he thought the prospect of success unlikely.
The Cabinet Office is seeking a judicial review of inquiry chairwoman Baroness Hallett’s order to release the documents, arguing it should not have to hand over irrelevant material.
All eyes on Tuesday hearing
An inquiry spokesperson said: “At 16:00 today the chair of the UK Covid-19 Public Inquiry was served a copy of a claim form by the Cabinet Office seeking to commence judicial review proceedings against the chair’s ruling of 22 May 2023.
“Further information will be provided at the module 2 preliminary hearing at 10.30am on Tuesday 6 June.”
Government takes own inquiry to court to protect Boris’s WhatsApps
Rishi Sunak has refused to back down in the extraordinary row over Boris Johnson’s messages as his government launched legal action against the Covid inquiry in a last-ditch attempt to protect the material:
PM refuses to back down in extraordinary row, as Cabinet Office announces judicial review
Important principles at stake, says Cabinet Office
The government is trying to take its own Covid inquiry to court as Rishi Sunak refuses to back down over Mr Johnson’s evidence.
The Cabinet Office said it had sought leave to bring a judicial review.
“We do so with regret and with an assurance that we will continue to cooperate 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.”
It added: “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.”
Government seeks judicial review of legal order
The Cabinet Office is seeking a judicial review of Baroness Hallett’s order to release Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages, diaries and notebooks, it has said in a letter to the Covid inquiry.
Sunak refuses to back down
Rishi Sunak has refused to back down in the extraordinary row over the Covid inquiry’s demand to see Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages and notebooks.
As the 4pm deadline passed, the prime minister appeared to maintain the Cabinet Office’s insistence on withholding the requested material, writes Adam Forrest:
PM refuses to rule out legal action and insists government ‘confident in its position’
How the two sides could end up in court
If the Cabinet Office confirms the government refused to hand over the material by the Covid inquiry’s 4pm deadline, it means the two sides could be heading to court – despite Mr Sunak’s being warned the “cards were stacked” against the government.
The government could seek a judicial review, or the Covid inquiry could seek an order from the High Court, or even launch criminal proceedings in a magistrates’ court.
Legal deadline expires
The deadline for the Cabinet Office to hand over Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages, diaries and personal notebooks to the Covid-19 public inquiry has expired.
If the government has failed to comply with inquiry chairwoman Baroness Hallett’s order to disclose the documents, it could lead to a court battle and possibly a criminal offence.
Ministers could seek a judicial review of her order as the government has argued it should not have to disclose material that is “unambiguously irrelevant” to the inquiry.
Sunak refuses to rule out court action against Covid Inquiry
Rishi Sunak has broken his silence over the 4pm deadline imposed by the Covid-19 Inquiry to hand over Boris Johnson’s WhatApps messages and notebooks.
The PM said the government remained “confident in its position” – but declined to say whether the material would be handed over.
Mr Sunak also refused to rule out court action to block the Covid Inquiry’s request.
Asked on his visit to Moldova if the deadline would be followed, the PM said: “It’s really important we learn the lessons of Covid ... We’re doing that in spirit of rigour but also of transparency and candour.”
He added: “The government’s cooperated fully with the inquiry to date, handing over tens of thousands of documents, and we will continue to comply, of course, with the law and cooperate with the inquiry.
“We’re confident in our position but are carefully considering next steps.”
Asked whether the government could go to court, Mr Sunak: “The government is considering very carefully next steps, but is confident in its position.”
Brexit was ‘historic economic error’, says ex-US Treasury chief
The senior American economist also said he would be “very surprised” if Britain avoids a recession in through the next two years.
Mr Summers said Brexit and other policies means Britain’s economic woes are “frankly more acute than they are in most other major countries.”
“The UK economic policy has been substantially flawed for some years,” the former Treasury secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Brexit will be remembered as a historic economic error that reduced the competitiveness of the UK economy, put downward pressure on the pound and upward pressure on prices, limited import goods and limited in some ways the supply of labour,” he said.
Mr Summers added: “All of which contributed to higher inflation.”
Adam Forrest reports:
UK’s exit from EU helped fuel inflation crisis, says top US economist Larry Summers
Letters to the editor: Boris Johnson is a liar and a ‘say anything’ fantasist. Where are the 40 new hospitals – and where is he?
“Steve Barclay’s interview with Laura Kuenssberg confirmed – as if any confirmation were needed – that Boris Johnson, the architect of the fictitious Tory manifesto of the 2019 election that gave these greedy and anti-social people a massive parliamentary majority, is an unconscionable liar and a “say anything” fantasist. Where are the 40 new hospitals and where is he? Not doing the job of an MP the public pays him for.
He is bunking off on multiple holidays or lucrative lecture tours neglecting both parliament and his constituents with no such negligence in collecting the benefit of a publicly funded legal defence, his pay cheque or a future handsome pension. He also nurtures the traditional expectation of appointing cronies of similar merit to top up the already overstocked and unwieldy house of lords with more Tory icing; a convention and an institution that should, like himself, be consigned to history.”
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