UPDATE: Covid Enquiry chair puts her foot down over withheld WhatsApps

Messages sent between ministers have been lost or no longer exist

Cabinet Office given more time to hand over Covid WhatsApp messages Credit: STIs/Shutterstock.com

Updated: Tuesday, June 6, at 5:48 pm

Baroness Hallett has today reasserted that it is she, as chair of the Covid Enquiry rather than the government who will have the final say as to what is relevant to the enquiry, in which they look to assess the pandemic handling and learn lessons for the future. 

As the government look to take legal action against the enquiry – an enquiry that they set up –  they are standing firm that they shouldn’t have to disclose information that they believe is ‘unambiguously irrelevant’. But their assertions continue to imply they are hiding something.

But Hallet has said today in an enquiry hearing that: “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.”

Farrukh posted this video on Twitter of the opposing views of Rishi Sunak and Baroness Hallett, saying: “Left: Rishi Sunak, “I think transparency is really important for the healthy functioning of democracy.” Right: Baroness Hallett, “In my view it is for the Inquiry chair to decide what is relevant or potentially relevant. The Cabinet Office disagrees.”

It was revealed that the enquiry will soon be comparing unredacted messages provided directly by Boris Johnson against the redacted ones handed over by the government. This should help establish whether Sunak’s government are being slippery with details.

The comparison may also reveal what the government are hiding if anything. And those details may likely never be released to the public if they do bear no relevance to the enquiry.

The UK government’s perceived avoidance tactics are at odds with senior conservative MPs including Robert Buckland and Sir Edward Leigh who believe the government should act in full compliance with the enquiry. Science Minister George Freeman has said he believes the government would lose their legal battle against the enquiry.

Friday, June 2, at 5:10 pm

Boris Johnson has said he will hand over his WhatsApp messages directly to the Covid public enquiry as the Cabinet office chose not to do so on their 4 pm deadline yesterday, June 1.

The Cabinet Office may legally challenge the enquiry’s request to hand over all the messages and documents unredacted, saying some of it is irrelevant. Still, Baroness Hallett, who leads the enquiry says that their investigation alone will decide what is relevant, not the government.

The Whatsapp messages Mr Johnson will hand over only go back to April 21, as his previous phone is believed to have been involved in a security breach. He has asked for assistance to turn it on ‘safely’ and security experts have confirmed this to be a straightforward task.

He can not hand over his notebooks as he gave them to the Cabinet Office. He says he will request them back and hand them to the enquiry should the government fail to turn them over.

Lord Cruddas of Shoreditch posted a copy of Mr Johnson’s letter to Dame Hallett on Twitter saying: “Boris going nuclear. He’s had enough. This is explosive!!”

With some doubting that Boris Johnson is acting in good faith, but rather trying to attack the current incarnation of the UK Government, it is yet to be seen the information he is planning to supply will be made fully available and whether any of it will be useful or even damning.

Updated: Thursday, June 1, at 7:43 am

In a surprising twist in the WhatsApp messaging story in the Covid-19 enquiry, Boris Johnson has now, as of May 31, handed full and unredacted messages and notebook entries to the Cabinet Office. 

This now puts the onus on the government to hand over the documents and maybe deliberately puts pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

It would appear in any case that both Johnson and the Cabinet Office haven’t always been forthcoming about the existence of these documents.

Natasha Clark spoke to Talk TV on Twitter: “The Sun’s Natasha Clark says Boris Johnson knows tonight that he has caused Rishi a huge headache by handing over WhatsApp messages intended for the Covid inquiry.”

Now the Cabinet Office must decide what exactly if anything they will hand over before today’s looming deadline as they continue to insist they will only hand over ‘relevant’ documents, while some believe that the relevancy of the documents is not their call.

Boris Johnson’s team however say that the cabinet office has had these documents for several months and yesterday’s handing over of these documents means that the previous denials that the documents exist are no longer valid.

We await today’s deadline for a government decision.

Wednesday, May 31, at 9:16 am

The Cabinet Office has been given until 4 pm tomorrow, June 1, to hand over unredacted transcriptions of WhatsApp messages and ministers’ diaries in the enquiry looking into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Cabinet Office of the UK Government has insisted it no longer has the messages that are being requested by the pandemic handling enquiry, prompting accusations of a cover-up from opposition politicians. They also say that much of the information was irrelevant to the enquiry.

Keep Our NHS Public said on Twitter: “Our taxes pay politicians’ salaries. They work for us. We deserve the truth about the pandemic. Not another cover-up of the original cover-up. #WeDeserveTheTruth #Covid

The enquiry seeks to learn lessons from the UK’s pandemic response but is facing opposition from the government, with some suggesting they have something to hide. Labour says the evidence ‘must be found’.

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party posted this on Twitter saying: “What have they got to hide? These legal battles and delaying tactics serve to undermine the Covid Inquiry. The missing evidence must be found and handed over if the whiff of a cover-up is to be avoided – so bereaved families get the answers they deserve.”

In the video in Angela Rayner‘s Tweet, UK Prime Minister is asked about getting into a legal battle with the pandemic enquiry, although Sunak has said that it is personal information that is being asked for and therefore the choice of the individual to hand it over.

Sunak also concedes in the video that ‘tens of thousands of documents have been handed over’ and that the government is confident in its approach to the refusal to hand over messages.

Some have argued that the requests for these messages are a targeted attack on ministers, and would in no way advance our understanding of best practices in pandemic response as the enquiry sets out to do.

Others believe that grieving families of covid victims deserve the full truth, with Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper saying on Twitter: “Any failure to hand over everything requested would make a mockery of this whole process and would be yet another insult to the millions of bereaved still waiting for justice.”

There seems to be some ambiguity in what the Cabinet Office has said about the requested documents, with them at once calling them irrelevant and then saying that they don’t have them. We will find out tomorrow if they are handed over to the enquiry.

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Written by

David Laycock

Dave Laycock has always written. Poems, songs, essays, academic papers as well as newspaper articles; the written word has always held a great fascination for him and he is never happier than when being creative. From a musical background, Dave has travelled the world performing and also examining for a British music exam board. He also writes, produces and performs and records music. All this aside, he is currently fully focussed on his journalism and can’t wait to share more stories from around the world and beyond.