Boris Johnson, who resigned as British prime minister last summer, said Thursday he had handed government officials all WhatsApp messages and notebooks being sought by a public inquiry into his administration's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has until Thursday afternoon to comply with a subpoena seeking the evidence from the inquiry. File photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo
June 1 (UPI) -- Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson handed over to the government Thursday WhatsApp messages and notebooks and urged officials to pass them on to a COVID-19 public inquiry, which earlier ordered the Cabinet Office to deliver the evidence to it by this afternoon.
The Cabinet Office is resisting a subpoena issued by the retired appeal court judge heading the inquiry on grounds the evidence being sought is not relevant and that it does not possess it, but Johnson said the government should now pass on the material unredacted and in full.
"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," a statement from Johnson's spokesman read. "Mr Johnson urges the Cabinet Office to urgently disclose it to the inquiry."
The spokesman said the material had been available to the Cabinet Office for several months, adding that Johnson would submit it to inquiry himself if asked.
Ministers' right to talk through policy in private remains paramount, according to the Cabinet Office, which said its lawyers were working through what was relevant to the inquiry as fast as they could. It is also concerned about the potential for unrelated personal information regarding health or family matters being made public.
Baroness Heather Hallett, who has given the Cabinet Office until 4 p.m. local time Thursday to disclose the material she is seeking in full, or face prosecution, has said it is her role to decide what is relevant to the inquiry, not the government.
Two of the country's most senior legal figures -- Lord Saville and Lord Sumption -- said they agreed, that the government has no legal case and that it would lose, were the matter to end up in court.
"I can't see any downside to her as a very senior and respected judge seeing material that would otherwise be private," said Lord Saville.
Senior Conservative MPs are also calling on the government to comply.
"If the inquiry requests documents and info -- then whoever it has asked should comply," Constitutional Affairs Committee chair William Wragg told the BBC.
Baroness Hallett subpoenaed notebooks and diaries and WhatsApp messages between Johnson and ministers and officials to be turned over -- unredacted -- two weeks before the hearing into the government's handling of the pandemic officially opens June 13, but on Tuesday granted a 48-hour extension that expires this afternoon.