The deadline for the government to hand over Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages to the COVID Inquiry has been extended.
Inquiry chair Lady Hallett had ordered the government to hand over the messages – alongside diary entries and notes – by 4pm on Tuesday 30 May.
The deadline has now set been 4pm on Thursday 1 June. The Cabinet Office asked for an extension to Monday 5 June as they do not have access to Mr Johnson‘s messages or notebooks, but this was rejected.
PM promises ‘transparency’ amid Johnson COVID message reprieve
What is the COVID inquiry asking for?
- Unredacted messages sent and received by Boris Johnson between 1 January 2020 and 24 February 2022.
- Unredacted diaries for Mr Johnson between 1 January 2020 and 24 February 2022
- Copies of 24 unredacted notebooks filled in by Mr Johnson between 1 January 2020 and 24 February 2022
- Unredacted messages sent and received by adviser Henry Cook between 1 January 2020 and 24 February 2022.
- The inquiry wants messages – even from group chats – about the government response to COVID, as well as contact with a list of certain experts, ministers, civil servants and advisers
This is despite saying in their original appeal against the order that there was “unambiguously irrelevant” material in the redacted parts of messages sent to the inquiry.
When the Cabinet Office lodged the appeal on 15 May, it said Mr Johnson’s WhatsApp messages had not yet been received by the government.
A spokesman for the former prime minister said today that he had “no objection” to sending the material to the inquiry.
Mr Johnson has written to the Cabinet Office to demand the government requests in writing access to his messages and notes – which he says has not happened yet.
If the government does not abide by the new deadline on Thursday, the chair of the inquiry – Baroness Hallett – has ordered that a statement be sent by a “senior civil servant” confirming the Cabinet Office does not have the requested information, as well as a chronology of the government’s contacts with Mr Johnson about the requests and whether the government has ever had the data.
Breaking a section 21 order could see the government face criminal proceedings, and there is also potential for a court battle over whether the information should be passed to the inquiry.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke just before the inquiry’s announcement, in which he said the “government is carefully considering its position, but it is confident in the approach that it’s taking”.
The battle between the parties centres on messages Mr Johnson sent and received, as well as his diaries and his notebooks from during the pandemic.
Baroness Hallett, the chair of the inquiry, made an order under section 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005 for the material to be handed over by the Cabinet Office.
Messages to and from former adviser Henry Cook were also included in the legal action.
It is this order which has now been extended.
Lady Hallett highlighted in her explanation that the Cabinet Office redacted material about the policing of Sarah Everard protests during the period of restrictions – something she said was “not a promising start”.
She later obtained the messages in full.
She also identified communications – which have still only been seen in their redacted form – that she considers are “in fact relevant to my investigation”.