Unredacted WhatsApp Texts Handed to Cabinet Office, Says Johnson

Unredacted WhatsApp Texts Handed to Cabinet Office, Says Johnson
Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on during a tour after a meeting with Gov. Greg Abbott at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, on May 23, 2023. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Evgenia Filimianova

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has handed his unredacted WhatsApp messages and notebooks to the Cabinet Office ahead of a looming deadline related to the UK’s COVID-19 Inquiry.

The inquiry seeks to provide insight into core political and administrative decision-making by the UK government during the pandemic.

Chaired by Lady Hallett, the inquiry has requested the government hand over Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages, diaries, and notebooks, setting the deadline to 4 p.m. on Thursday.

The Cabinet Office had so far argued against releasing the data, saying that it may reveal personal information “unambiguously irrelevant to the inquiry.”

However, on Wednesday Johnson’s spokesman confirmed that all requested material including the former prime minister’s WhatsApps and notebooks requested by the inquiry had been handed to the Cabinet Office “in full and in unredacted form.”

“Mr. Johnson urges the Cabinet Office to urgently disclose it to the inquiry. The Cabinet Office has had access to this material for several months. Mr. Johnson would immediately disclose it directly to the inquiry if asked.”

The spokesman said that Johnson understands the government position and doesn’t seek to contradict it.

“He is perfectly happy for the inquiry to have access to this material in whatever form it requires,” the statement concluded.

Johnson’s readiness to provide the requested material goes against the stance of the Cabinet Office that has jurisdictional objections and argued that the inquiry doesn’t have the power to “demand material that is unambiguously irrelevant to its work.”

In its correspondence with the government, Lady Hallett said that the broad scope of messages and diary entries will help the inquiry understand whether Johnson’s government dealt with COVID-19-related issues inadequately because it focused on other issues.

“For similar reasons, I may also be required to investigate the personal commitments of ministers and other decision-makers during the time in question. There is, for example, well-established public concern as to the degree of attention given to the emergence of Covid-19 in early 2020 by the then Prime Minister,” she wrote.

No Excuses

Chair of the Bloody Sunday inquiry Lord Saville said that it is Lady Hallett’s “duty” to do a thorough job in looking into the government’s handling of the pandemic. The Bloody Sunday inquiry, established in 1998, looked into the events of Bloody Sunday in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, during the peak of ethno-political violence known as The Troubles.
“Who is to decide what is relevant or not? In my view—prima facie at least—it’s Lady Hallett,” Saville told BBC Radio 4’s ”Today“ programme.

The Cabinet Office told the COVID-19 Inquiry that the requested WhatsApp threads may “contain personal information of a kind which could have no conceivable bearing on the issues being considered by the Inquiry, including personal information of junior officials.”

Commenting on the privacy matter of the issue, Saville said he didn’t see “any downside” to Lady Hallett—“a very senior and respected judge”—seeing material that would otherwise be private.

The need for an inquiry was propelled by the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group that demanded an investigation into the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Ahead of the deadline set by the inquiry, the group said the requested messages “need to be handed over immediately.”

“The Cabinet Office have run out of excuses,” the group said.

Johnson has been using the Cabinet Office legal team for advice in relation to the inquiry led by the Privileges Committee. However, on Wednesday he wrote to the COVID-19 Inquiry, saying that he is “currently instructing new solicitors to represent” him.

Should the Whitehall officials and the inquiry fail to compromise, the government could face a legal battle, leaving it to the courts to decide what material is made available.

Evgenia Filimianova is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in UK politics, parliamentary proceedings and socioeconomic issues.
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