In response to his request for the government to “urgently disclose” the information to the Covid-19 probe, Boris Johnson has given his unredacted WhatsApp chats and notebooks to the Cabinet Office.
The inquiry’s chairperson, Baroness Hallett, had asked for access to Mr. Johnson’s WhatsApp chats and private notebooks, but the Cabinet Office had asserted that it did not.
To date, ministers have raised concerns about the publication of “unambiguously irrelevant” content.
After receiving a 48-hour extension on Tuesday, the committee has set a deadline of 4 p.m. on Thursday for the delivery of Mr. Johnson’s messages, notebooks, and official diaries.
All of the information requested by the Covid probe, according to a spokesman for Mr. Johnson, has been given to the Cabinet Office and should be made available to Baroness Hallett.
The Cabinet Office has now acknowledged receiving the information and that its staff is reviewing it.
Mr Johnson’s spokesperson said on Wednesday: “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.
“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.
“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.”
Mr. Johnson’s decision to turn up the documents will put more pressure on the Cabinet Office, which is already under fire for having to refute claims of a “cover-up” following the public spat with the investigation.
Whitehall officials are more worried about creating a precedent by providing all the requested documents in their entirety than they are about selecting the information that is pertinent and should be provided to the inquiry.
The refusal to turn up the records, which include text messages between Mr. Johnson and a number of government officials, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, might result in a legal dispute with the official investigation.
Whitehall officials, however, are hoping that a solution can be made before the deadline of 4 PM in order to avoid the need for a costly legal battle with the commission established to look at the pandemic and the Government’s response.
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride had earlier told Sky News that the government has already given the inquiry “55,000 documents, eight witness statements, and corporate witness statements” and that “we absolutely intend to continue to be absolutely transparent and candid.”
Prior to the deadline on Thursday, the inquiry is still anticipated to wait for the Cabinet Office response.