Rishi Sunak’s authorities on Thursday launched authorized motion to dam the discharge of Boris Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages to the official Covid-19 public inquiry.
However in a brand new twist, it emerged that Johnson had solely given the federal government messages referring to the interval after Might 2021 when he acquired a brand new telephone; by that point the worst of the Covid disaster had handed.
The 2 developments prompted Labour to assert that each Sunak and Johnson had been making an attempt to frustrate the inquiry, arrange to attract classes from the best way the federal government dealt with the pandemic.
The choice to hunt a judicial assessment to dam the discharge of “unambiguously irrelevant” unredacted messages places Sunak at loggerheads with the pinnacle of the inquiry, former decide Baroness Heather Hallett.
The Cupboard Workplace mentioned it had taken the authorized step “with remorse” and to attempt to shield “the rights of people and the right conduct of presidency”.
It revealed that Johnson had solely given it communications courting from Might 2021 — greater than a yr after the pandemic hit Britain and the identical month he introduced the Covid inquiry.
Johnson’s allies mentioned he acquired a brand new telephone that month after a safety breach and was informed by safety officers by no means to activate the previous gadget. “The impact is that historic messages are not accessible to look and the telephone just isn’t lively,” one ally mentioned.
Johnson, who nonetheless has the previous telephone, has written to the Cupboard Workplace to see if messages could possibly be retrieved “with out compromising safety”. Johnson’s allies mentioned they’d “no concept” if this is able to be potential.
Johnson additionally wrote to Hallett on Thursday to say he was “more than pleased at hand over the related WhatsApps and notebooks that you’ve got requested in unredacted kind” and that he was keen to ship them to her instantly.
Hallett had given the federal government till 4pm on Thursday at hand over unredacted materials referring to Johnson’s time as prime minister, together with WhatsApp messages and notebooks.
However at 4.20pm the Cupboard Workplace introduced it might search depart to deliver a judicial assessment, arguing that Hallett was exceeding her statutory powers in demanding the complete cache of unedited materials.
There may be an consciousness in Whitehall that the choice relating to whether or not or to not submit Johnson’s communications unredacted will set a precedent for what different ministers — together with Sunak himself — may need at hand over to Hallett’s group at a later date.
Sunak was chancellor through the pandemic and was sceptical about lockdowns, warning concerning the financial injury they might trigger.
“The request for unambiguously irrelevant materials goes past the powers of the inquiry,” the Cupboard Workplace mentioned. Hallett has argued that she ought to determine whether or not or not materials is irrelevant.
Labour mentioned that each Sunak and Johnson had been “enjoying video games on the public’s expense”, whereas Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy chief, accused Sunak of partaking in a “determined try and withhold proof”.
“After 13 years of Tory scandal, these newest smoke and mirror techniques serve solely to undermine the Covid inquiry. The general public deserve solutions, not one other cover-up,” she mentioned.
Talking earlier at a summit in Moldova, Sunak insisted the federal government was “assured in our place”. He careworn the significance of studying classes from the pandemic and approaching the inquiry “within the spirit of rigour but in addition transparency and candour”.
The federal government has handed over greater than 55,000 paperwork and “will proceed to conform, in fact, with the regulation” and “co-operate with the inquiry”, Sunak mentioned.
Officers have accused the inquiry of taking an “absolutist” method to the disclosure of fabric, however insisted the wrangling over the matter was not confrontational.