The plot thickens: why does the Tory government need to stop the Covid inquiry seeing Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages and notebooks, after Johnson himself asked for them to be handed over?
The Cabinet Office, acting for the government, has unilaterally missed the deadline of 4pm on Thursday, June 1, 2023 to hand over the material.
Instead, it waited until the deadline passed, then said it would seek a judicial review of inquiry chairwoman Baroness Hallett’s order to release the documents.
This means a judge will have to decide whether the inquiry has overreached its legal powers.
The argument is that sight of Johnson’s WhatsApp messages might create a precedent for the inquiry to see WhatsApp messages of serving ministers, including the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak.
The Cabinet Office said handing over the material would compromise ministers’ right to privacy and could prevent them from discussing policy matters in the future.
Some might say that was a good thing. There was a debate a short while ago about whether government ministers should be carrying out government business via WhatsApp or personal email when it should all be done via government devices so it may become available if necessary – like all other governmental communications.
The government’s reasoning – and the stated fact that Rishi Sunak and deputy PM Oliver Dowden signed off the decision to launch a judicial review on Wednesday – suggests an ulterior motive: that material compromising Sunak (and/or others) is among Johnson’s communications.
Perhaps this really could bring down the government, as This Writer has already suggested.
And then there’s the question of the material Johnson has offered to provide.
It turns out that he has only provided WhatsApps from May 2021 onwards. This is because he had acquired a new phone after his old number had been listed online (now, how did that happen?) and he had received advice (from whom?) not to switch it on again.
Johnson (coincidentally?) ordered the inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic that same month – May 2021.
So his part in this is looking extremely questionable.
That being said, he has offered to provide not only all his WhatsApps and notebooks to the inquiry, but also the phone – saying he has asked the Cabinet Office whether technical support can be provided so the messages it contains can be retrieved without compromising security.
And here’s a thing: WhatsApp messages are habitually backed up – on Google Drive if it’s an Android phone or on iCloud for iPhones. Unless that facility was turned off, then all the WhatsApp content of the compromised phone should be available.
And if that facility was turned off, we should ask why. If it was done by government order, why wasn’t the information backed up elsewhere (and why was the government allowing its business to be done via private phone messages)? If by Johnson, doesn’t this indicate he was trying to hide something? What could it be?
It all points to a monumental attempt to hide guilt – of the kind that Rishi Sunak himself implied would not happen under his leadership.
So we should all be able to understand why Peter Stefanovic is so angry about it in his summation of the situation:
This is outrageous behavior by @RishiSunak’s Government! It’s going to launch a legal challenge over the Covid inquiry's demand for WhatsApp messages & documents.
If you think this Government is an absolute piece of crap RT this widely pic.twitter.com/54XUtqBygv
— Peter Stefanovic (@PeterStefanovi2) June 1, 2023
To This Writer, it seems highly unlikely that even Tory politicians would go to this length if they didn’t have a strong self-interest in it. But it’s self-defeating, also: after this, would you ever trust them again?
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