Covid Inquiry Boss Hits Back At Government Over Boris Johnson WhatsApp Row

Baroness Hallett says she should decide which of the former PM's messages are "relevant" to her probe.
Rishi Sunak's government is fighting the Covi inquiry's request to see Boris Johnson's WhatsApp messages.
Rishi Sunak's government is fighting the Covi inquiry's request to see Boris Johnson's WhatsApp messages.
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The head of the Covid inquiry has taken a thinly-veiled swipe at the government over its refusal to hand over all of Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages from during the pandemic.

Ministers have mounted a legal challenge to the request by Baroness Hallett - despite the former prime minister handing them directly to the inquiry.

The inquiry chairwoman said she should be the one who decides which of the former PM’s messages to other ministers - including Rishi Sunak - are “relevant” to her probe.

In her opening remarks at the start of the inquiry this morning, she said she had “declined” a request by the Cabinet Office that she back down.

She said: “An issue has arisen between the inquiry and the Cabinet Office as to who decides what is relevant or potentially relevant.

“I issued a notice under Section 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005 making it clear that, in my view, it is for the inquiry chair to decide what is relevant or potentially relevant.

“The Cabinet Office disagrees, claiming they are not obliged to disclose what they consider to be unambiguously irrelevant material. They invited me to withdraw the Section 21 notice. I declined.

“They are now challenging my decision to decline to withdraw the notice in the High Court by way of judicial review.

“With litigation pending and as the decision-maker, I can make no further comment.”

The Cabinet Office announced last week that it was taking the unusual step of taking legal action against the government’s own inquiry into how the pandemic was handled.

It said it was seeking a judicial review of Baroness Hallett’s order to release Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages, diaries and personal notebooks, arguing that it should not have to hand over material which is “unambiguously irrelevant”.

In a further twist, Johnson himself then said he was happy to hand over all the requested material.

In a letter to Baroness Hallett, he said: “While I understand the government’s position, I am not willing to let my material become a test case for others when I am perfectly content for the inquiry to see it.

“I am therefore providing the material directly to your inquiry today in unredacted form.”

The judicial review is expected to be heard at the end of this month.


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