Government launches legal bid to stop Covid investigation from seeing Johnson WhatsApps

  • By Joshua Nevitt
  • BBC Politics

image source, Getty Images

The government will launch an unprecedented legal challenge over a Covid demand to inquire about WhatsApp messages and documents.

Officials missed the 16:00 deadline to reveal letters between Boris Johnson and his advisers during the pandemic, as well as his diaries and notebooks.

The government refused to release some of the material, arguing that it was not relevant to the investigative work.

But the investigation chief says determining what is appropriate should be her job.

Crossbench counterpart Baroness Hallett, the head of the inquiry, says she needs to see the letters to see if they are relevant to the inquiry into how the government handled the pandemic.

But the government says handing over the required materials would set a precedent that could prevent ministers from discussing policy matters in the future.

The Cabinet Office, which holds the reins for the government, said it would apply for judicial review. This means that the judge will decide whether the investigation has exceeded its legal powers to demand evidence.

It is believed that this is the first time that a government has launched a legal challenge against an investigation it has launched itself.

Opposition parties accused Rishi Sunak’s government of trying to derail the Covid investigation and urged him to comply with their requests.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “The recent smoke and mirrors tactics only serve to undermine the Covid investigation.”

Some senior Tory MPs have urged the government to back down to avoid a drawn-out legal confrontation with the Covid investigation.

It said the “irrelevant material” requested by the investigation included “references to personal and family information, including illness and disciplinary matters,” and “comments of a personal nature about identifiable or identifiable individuals unrelated to Covid.” -19″.

The legal challenge came a day after Mr Johnson claimed he had given the Cabinet Office all the WhatsApp messages and notebooks requested by the Covid investigation.

He urged the Cabinet Office to submit the material to the investigation in its entirety, without redaction, adding that it would do so himself “if asked to do so”.

The investigation requested access to WhatsApp messages from Mr Johnson’s phone, covering the period from 1 January 2020 to 24 February 2022.

But the material provided by Johnson did not include letters sent before May 2021.

The director of the Cabinet Office said in a statement to the investigation that this was because he was forced to change phones after a security breach.

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