Government To Launch Legal Action Against Covid Inquiry Over Boris Johnson WhatsApps
Boris Johnson handed over "all" of the private material to the Cabinet Office (Alamy)
The Cabinet Office is seeking a judicial review over whether the Covid inquiry has the power to request Boris Johnson's personal WhatsApps and diaries from his time in Downing Street during the pandemic, which the government has argued are "unambiguously irrelevant".
The government and the Covid inquiry have been at odds over whether private documents and messages, including from former prime minister Boris Johnson, should be shared with the inquiry as part of its investigation into the government's response to the pandemic.
Having been given until 4pm on Thursday to disclose the material, the Cabinet Office has decided to continue to block the release of the material to the inquiry, instead choosing to launch legal action challenging the inquiry's demand for the materials.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The Cabinet Office has today sought leave to bring a judicial review.
"We do so with regret and with an assurance that we will continue to cooperate fully with the inquiry before, during and after the jurisdictional issue in question is determined by the courts, specifically whether the Inquiry has the power to compel production of documents and messages which are unambiguously irrelevant to the Inquiry’s work, including personal communications and matters unconnected to the government’s handling of Covid."
The spokesperson said the Cabinet Office considered there to be "important issues of principal at stake", arguing that individuals' private material should not be subject to "unwarranted intrusion".
The government said it had "exchanged views with the Inquiry and explored a number of possible avenues for resolving this difference of opinion" before initiating legal action.
Boris Johnson handed over the documents to the Cabinet Office this week, and he has urged the government to give the material to the Covid inquiry.
Angela Rayner MP, Labour's Deputy Leader and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, labelled the government's legal action as a "distraction" from the cost of living crisis.
"While the rest of the country is focused on the cost of living crisis, Rishi Sunak is hopelessly distracted with legal ploys to obstruct the Covid Inquiry in a desperate attempt to withhold evidence," she said.
"After 13 years of Tory scandal, these latest smoke and mirror tactics serve only to undermine the Covid Inquiry. The public deserve answers, not another cover-up.
"Instead of digging himself further into a hole by pursuing doomed legal battles to conceal the truth, Rishi Sunak must comply with the Covid Inquiry's requests for evidence in full. There can be no more excuses."
Responding to the government's announcement, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper MP said: “This cowardly attempt to obstruct a vital public inquiry is a kick in the teeth for bereaved families who’ve already waited far too long for answers.
“Rishi Sunak's promise to govern with integrity and accountability has been left in tatters. The government is delaying the inquiry even further and clogging up court time, all to prevent Sunak and his Conservative colleagues from having to release their messages.”
The Covid inquiry said further information would be provided on the judicial review at the preliminary hearing at 10:30am on Tuesday 6 June.
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