Boris Johnson's 'missing WhatsApp messages' finally handed to Cabinet Office

Boris Johnson has handed over unredacted Whatsapp messages and notebooks to the Cabinet Office, and called for the ‘urgent’ disclosure of them to the Covid inquiry.

A previous deadline for Tuesday set by the inquiry was extended yesterday, with the government given until 4pm on Thursday to hand over the material.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said all the material requested by the Covid inquiry had been handed to the Cabinet Office and should be disclosed to inquiry chairwoman Baroness Hallett.

Ministers had previously said ‘unambiguously irrelevant’ material should not be released.

‘All Boris Johnson’s material – including WhatsApps and notebooks – requested by the Covid inquiry has been handed to the Cabinet Office in full and in unredacted form,’ the former PM’s spokesman said today.

‘Mr Johnson urges the Cabinet Office to urgently disclose it to the inquiry.

‘The Cabinet Office has had access to this material for several months. Mr Johnson would immediately disclose it directly to the inquiry if asked.

‘While Mr Johnson understands the Government’s position, and does not seek to contradict it, he is perfectly happy for the inquiry to have access to this material in whatever form it requires.’

He added: ‘Mr Johnson co-operated with the inquiry in full from the beginning of this process and continues to do so.

‘Indeed, he established the inquiry. He looks forward to continuing to assist the inquiry with its important work.’

The messages will include correspondence with senior figures in the government, including then-chancellor Rishi Sunak.

If Whitehall officials refuse to comply with the request to hand them over along with the notebooks, it could lead to a court battle.

Some are concerned about setting a precedent by handing over all the requested documents in unredacted form, rather than deciding what material is relevant and should be submitted to the inquiry.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride had earlier told Sky News ‘we absolutely intend to continue to be absolutely transparent and candid’ and the Government had already provided ‘55,000 documents, eight witness statements and corporate witness statements’.

As attention was focused on the ‘missing’ messages yesterday, former head of the Civil Service Lord Kerslake told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There’s some cover-up going on here to save embarrassment of ministers, but there’s also the Cabinet Office fighting for a principle of confidentiality.

‘I have to say I think they’re misguided on this situation.

‘I actually think it would set a helpful precedent if Lady Hallett prevailed in this fight about the information.’

But a Downing Street spokesman flatly denied the allegation of a cover-up, saying: ‘No. We want to learn the lessons about the actions of the state during the pandemic, we want that to be done rigorously and candidly.’

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