Boris Johnson has been warned he could lose public funding for legal advice if he tries to ‘frustrate or undermine’ the Government’s position on the Covid-19 inquiry.
Cabinet Office lawyers told him that money would ‘cease to be available’ if he breaks conditions such as releasing evidence without permission, the Sunday Times reported tonight.
Mr Johnson has been at the centre of a growing row as ministers launched a High Court bid to challenge the inquiry’s demand for his unredacted WhatsApp messages and notebooks.
The former prime minister vowed to send all his messages to the official investigation directly, circumventing the Cabinet Office.
The Sunday Times detailed a letter sent by Cabinet Office lawyers to Mr Johnson last week.
It reads: ‘The funding offer will cease to be available to you if you knowingly seek to frustrate or undermine, either through your own actions or the actions of others, the Government’s position in relation to the inquiry unless there is a clear and irreconcilable conflict of interest on a particular point at issue.’
Officials added that funding would ‘only remain available’ if Mr Johnson complied with conditions such as sending the Cabinet Office ‘any witness statement or exhibit which you intend to provide to the inquiry so that it can be security checked by appropriate officials.
The Cabinet Office said the letter was ‘intended to protect public funds’ so taxpayer-funded lawyers are not used for any other purpose than aiding the inquiry.
Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries, a close friend and staunch ally of Mr Johnson, declared it was ‘not a good look for the Government’.
She tweeted: ‘All evidence provided should be unfettered and not restricted by gov censorship – whatever form that may take.’
Tory donor Lord Cruddas, an outspoken backer of Mr Johnson, who handed him a peerage, urged the MP not to be ‘held to ransom’ by the threat.
‘Don’t worry @BorisJohnson I can easily get your legal fees funded by supporters and crowd funding, it’s easy,’ he tweeted in support.
He said he would like to do the same for the messages on an old phone he was told not to use after it emerged the number had been available online for 15 years.
That device will be crucial, containing discussions before May 2021 including around the three national lockdowns he ordered.
The Cabinet Office missed Lady Hallett’s deadline set on Thursday to hand over the requested material.
But the Government department has been trying to resist the publication of messages it believes are ‘unambiguously irrelevant’.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘This letter from officials simply reiterates that taxpayer-funded lawyers must be used to aid the Covid inquiry and for no other purpose.
‘The letter makes clear Mr Johnson has a duty to provide sincere witness to the inquiry independently and without reference to the views of the current Government.
‘This letter was intended to protect public funds. It in no way prevents Mr Johnson from providing whatever evidence he wants to.’
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