Despite being told that he risked losing public funds for legal counsel if he attempted to “frustrate or undermine” the Government’s stance, a senior minister has stated that Boris Johnson will not be constrained in what he can say at the Covid Inquiry.
In addition, Robert Jenrick said that it would not be “sensible or reasonable” for the Government to turn over ministers’ documents or messages if they are thought to be unrelated to the pandemic as it attempts to limit disclosure by taking the official investigation to court.
Attorneys from the Cabinet Office have written to Mr. Johnson to warn him that money will “cease to be available” if he violates terms like disclosing information without authorization.
Ministers filed a High Court petition to oppose the inquiry’s request for access to the former prime minister’s notebooks and unredacted WhatsApp chats, which put him in the center of a controversy.
He has sworn to bypass the Cabinet Office and send all of his communications directly to the official probe.
The Sunday Times revealed the letter from Government attorneys to Mr. Johnson that contained the warning, despite the fact that the taxpayer had paid for his legal counsel.
“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.
But Mr Jenrick insisted it is “entirely up to the former prime minister how he co-operates with the inquiry”.
The Home Office minister told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “If he wishes to send his documents or WhatsApp messages to them then he’s at liberty to do so.
“He can advance whatever arguments he wants to and make whatever statements he wishes in his witness statement to the inquiry.
“There’s absolutely no sense that the Government will restrict what Boris Johnson wants to say, but if you use taxpayer funds obviously you should make sure you’re using them appropriately.”
He denied there are fears in No 10 that Rishi Sunak’s messages could reveal a plot to try to bring down Mr Johnson, saying: “No, as I say, the issue here is a simple legal one.”
While Mr. Johnson is currently at the center of the dispute, the Government is attempting to keep texts from other ministers that it deems to be unimportant from being disclosed.
Evidence from the Prime Minister, who served as chancellor during the pandemic, may be included in this.
Mr Jenrick told Ridge: “We want to hand over to the Covid Inquiry absolutely anything that has anything to do with Covid-19 or the purpose of the inquiry.
“Where there’s a point of difference is that we don’t think it’s sensible or reasonable to hand over documents or messages that have nothing whatever to do with Covid-19.”
As a former lawyer, he said, the “normal way to do this is to set reasonable parameters” but not to ask for things “wholly unrelated”.
He insisted the Government has the “highest regard” for inquiry chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett and is not asking for “special treatment”.
“I hope this can be resolved indeed even before the matter gets to court,” he added.
The Cabinet Office said the letter to Mr. Johnson was “intended to protect public funds” in order to ensure that taxpayer-funded attorneys are only used to support the investigation.
It is “not a good look for the Government,” said to former culture secretary Nadine Dorries, a devoted supporter of the former Tory leader.
“All evidence provided should be unfettered and not restricted by gov censorship – whatever form that may take,” she tweeted.
Conservative 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 Lady Hallett after the Government began its legal struggle, informing her that he was sending all the WhatsApp messages with no redactions that he had sent to the Cabinet Office.
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 inquiry 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.”