Former British prime minister Boris Johnson has submitted his pandemic-era notebooks and messages to the government and has encouraged officials to transfer them to an independent Covid-19 inquiry, his spokesperson said on Wednesday (31).
A stalemate has arisen between the inquiry and the Cabinet Office, the governmental body responsible for overseeing operations, regarding the issue of whether the Cabinet Office should surrender materials it considers irrelevant to the investigation.
“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,” the spokesman’s statement said.
“Mr Johnson urges the Cabinet Office to urgently disclose it to the inquiry.”
Following one of the highest numbers of Covid deaths worldwide, the government led by Johnson in 2021 initiated an inquiry into the preparedness, public health response, and economic measures taken by the UK.
As a national election is anticipated to take place next year, the comprehensive scrutiny of decision-making processes could potentially create political discomfort for both Johnson and the current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who served as the finance minister during the pandemic.
The inquiry’s scope will encompass the government’s handling of the pandemic, with a particular focus on the initial stages when the UK’s response was comparatively slower than that of many European countries.
Former judge Heather Hallett is chairing the inquiry, which had set a deadline for the government to provide Johnson’s WhatsApp messages and diaries by Thursday afternoon.
At present, there has been no immediate response from the Cabinet Office regarding a request for comment. However, in a statement released on Tuesday, the Cabinet Office stated the following:
“We are firmly of the view that the inquiry does not have the power to request unambiguously irrelevant information that is beyond the scope of this investigation.”
“This includes the WhatsApp messages of government employees which are not about work but instead are entirely personal and relate to their private lives.”
Despite facing heavy criticism for his personal conduct during the Covid-19 pandemic and receiving a police fine for violating lockdown regulations, Johnson expressed his full willingness to cooperate with the inquiry.
“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,” the spokesman said.