Covid inquiry’s WhatsApp demand skewers Johnson

Loser: Boris Johnson.

This is awkward for Boris Johnson.

On the same day he threatened to sue the Cabinet Office for handing to the police evidence suggesting he had broken Covid-19 no-contact rules during lockdown, the official Covid inquiry has threatened legal action against the government if it does not release his unredacted WhatsApp messages and diary entries.

The Cabinet Office apparently doesn’t want to do that.

This puts the Cabinet Office in an awkward position too, as it may seem hypocritical for it to provide Johnson’s diaries to the police while refusing to provide other information to the Covid inquiry.

According to the Cabinet Office, some of the material demanded is “unambiguously irrelevant” to the inquiry – but the inquiry’s chairwoman, Baroness Hallett, has responded by pointing out that passages initially assessed by the Cabinet Office to be irrelevant included discussions between the prime minister and his advisers about the enforcement of Covid regulations by the Metropolitan Police during protests following the murder of Sarah Everard.

This is clearly relevant to the inquiry. Baroness Hallett is quoted by the BBC as having said this was “not a promising start”.

And it undermines Boris Johnson because it demonstrates that documents he has provided to the Cabinet Office contain information that should rightly be divulged to those involved in the various investigations into his activities while he was prime minister.

If he does take legal action he will probably lose, based on the facts that have already become available.

If the Covid inquiry takes legal action it will probably win, on the same basis.

Maybe This Writer has been watching too many old episodes of Yes, Minister, but it seems to me that this sequence of events is fortuitous for the Cabinet Office.

It justifies the release of the diaries to the police, and make possible the release of the other material to the Covid inquiry, no matter what the decision on its relevance was – or who made it.

Yes, the Cabinet Office may lose face to a small degree.

But Boris Johnson is the real loser here. Or so it seems to me.

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