LONDON — The deadline for the UK government to provide unredacted WhatsApp messages, diaries, and notebooks belonging to Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the COVID-19 inquiry has been extended until Thursday. Failure to comply may result in criminal prosecution for the Cabinet Office. The UK government argues that certain material is irrelevant to the inquiry.
Responding to the extension, PM Rishi Sunak stated, “In the spirit of transparency and to learn from the lessons of the pandemic, the government has already furnished tens of thousands of documents. As for this particular matter, we are carefully evaluating our next steps, but we are confident in our position.”
The government’s stance is that it will not release the material, including Johnson’s COVID-era messages, which lawyers have deemed irrelevant to the inquiry and potentially detrimental to future open discussions within the government. However, the former head of the civil service argues that this justification should not apply in this case.
Worryingly, it has now come to light that the government has informed the inquiry that it does not possess some of the requested material.
A spokesperson for Boris Johnson clarified that government lawyers have had access to the material and may have reviewed certain notebooks. The Johnson team does not object to providing the material, but the inquiry insists that it has not received it. It has instructed the government to outline the steps being taken to acquire the requested material by Thursday.
Initially, the COVID-19 inquiry set a deadline of 4 pm on Tuesday for the submission of the Johnson material. This deadline has now been extended to 4 pm on Thursday. The government must inform the inquiry by then about the whereabouts of the material and the actions taken to obtain it.
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