Boris Johnson has been informed that if he attempts to “frustrate or undermine” the Government’s stance over the Covid-19 inquiry, he risked losing public funding for legal counsel.
According to the Sunday Times, attorneys with the Cabinet Office warned him that money would “cease to be available” if he violated terms including disclosing information without authorization.
Ministers filed a High Court petition to oppose the inquiry’s request for Mr. Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp chats and notebooks, which put him in the center of a controversy.
The former prime minister planned to bypass the Cabinet Office and give all of his communications directly to the official investigation.
The Cabinet Office’s letter to Mr. Johnson last week was described in detail in The Sunday Times.
“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,” it said.
They added that funding would “only remain available” if he 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 letter was “intended to protect public funds,” according to the Cabinet Office, so taxpayer-funded attorneys are only employed to support the investigation.
Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries, a staunch ally of Mr Johnson, said it was “not a good look for the Government”.
“All evidence provided should be unfettered and not restricted by gov censorship – whatever form that may take,” she tweeted.
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.
Mr. Johnson replied to Baroness Hallett, the inquiry’s chairperson, after the Government began its legal struggle, stating that he was sending all of the WhatsApp messages he had sent to the Cabinet Office without any redactions.
After learning that the number has been publicly available online for 15 years, he stated he would like to do the same with the messages on an old phone that he had been advised not to use.
The conversations that took place on that device before to May 2021, especially those pertaining to the three nationwide lockdowns he authorized, will prove essential.
Mr Johnson told the chairwoman that he was “not willing to let my material become a test case for others when I am perfectly content for the inquiry to see it”.
The Cabinet Office failed to deliver the needed materials before Lady Hallett’s deadline of Thursday.
However, the government agency has been making an effort to prevent the dissemination of messages it deems to be “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.”