Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday provided contested WhatsApp messages directly to a COVID-19 public inquiry, over the head of the government which is going to court to try to have a subpoena thrown out. File photo by Paul Hanna/UPI | License Photo
June 2 (UPI) -- Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday he will provide contested WhatsApp messages directly to a public inquiry into COVID-19, over the head of the government which is going to court to try to have a subpoena thrown out.
In a letter to the head of the inquiry, retired appeals court judge Baroness Heather Hallett, Johnson said he would send the messages she was seeking -- in unredacted form -- directly to the inquiry looking into his administration's handling of the pandemic.
"The government yesterday decided to take legal action. It was not my decision to do so," wrote Johnson. "While I understand the government's position, I am not willing to let my material become a test case for others when I am perfectly content for the inquiry to see it."
However, the messages only go back as far as when Johnson began using a new phone in April 2021, many months beyond the period in 2020 when lockdown and other decisions were being made. Johnson stressed that he was willing to provide "any material" on his old phone but that due to a security breach, he had previously been advised it could no longer be accessed "safely."
"In view of the urgency of your request I believe we need to test this advice, which came from the security services," wrote Johnson.
Johnson said his notebooks, which Hallett is also seeking, had been retained by the Cabinet Office and that he had requested they be forwarded on to the inquiry. If it decided not to do so, he would ask for them to be returned to him so that he could provide them directly.
Johnson's move comes after the government launched an unprecedented legal challenge Thursday in the High Court seeking a judicial review of the inquiry's order for the material to be handed over. The announcement came after a 48-hour deadline for the Cabinet Office to hand over the evidence in full came and went at 4 p.m. local time.
Hallett subpoenaed notebooks, diaries and WhatsApp messages between Johnson and ministers and officials to be turned over -- unredacted -- two weeks before the inquiry officially opens June 13, but on Tuesday granted a two-day extension.
Lawyers for the government will argue ministers and officials "should not be required to provide material that is irrelevant to the inquiry's work" including material containing personal information regarding health, family, or disciplinary matters as well as discussions regarding identified individuals that are not COVID-19 related.
The government taking its own public inquiry to court is believed to be a first in the country's 176-year history of inquiries.