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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

UK authorities fights demand handy over Boris Johnson’s messages to COVID-19 inquiry

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LONDON — As Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson established an impartial inquiry into his authorities’s dealing with of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now the inquiry desires to see, in full, what Johnson wrote to different U.Ok. officers because the outbreak raged — however the authorities is combating a requirement handy over the fabric.

Inquiry chairwoman Heather Hallett, a retired decide, has requested the Conservative authorities, now led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, to provide full copies of Johnson’s WhatsApp messages and notebooks, after initially being given redacted variations.

Authorities officers mentioned they solely reduce out materials that was “unambiguously irrelevant” to the investigation, however Hallett desires to be the decide of that. She mentioned “all the contents of the required paperwork are of potential relevance to the strains of investigation being pursued by the inquiry.”

Hallett — who has the ability to summon proof and query witnesses beneath oath — set a deadline of 4 p.m. (1500 GMT) Tuesday for the federal government handy over the paperwork, overlaying a two-year interval from early 2020.

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However hours earlier than the deadline, the federal government requested for extra time, claiming it did not have Johnson’s WhatsApp messages or notebooks. Hallett denied a request to maneuver the deadline to Monday, however agreed to increase it by 48 hours, till Thursday.

The inquiry mentioned if the WhatsApp messages and notebooks cannot be produced, the federal government should present witness statements from senior officers setting out what efforts have been made to search out them.

Sunak, who took workplace after Johnson left workplace in September – to be succeeded, for a couple of weeks, by Liz Truss — mentioned the federal government had already handed over tens of 1000’s of paperwork to the inquiry and was “contemplating subsequent steps fastidiously.” The federal government is anxious concerning the precedent that disclosing Johnson’s full, unredacted conversations would possibly set.

Johnson’s workplace mentioned the previous chief had “no objection to disclosing materials to the inquiry,” however that choices on redactions have been for the Cupboard workplace, a authorities division, to make.

Bob Kerslake, a former head of the civil service, mentioned that the federal government was probably resisting disclosure “to avoid wasting embarrassment of ministers” — an strategy he known as “misguided.”

The U.Ok. has recorded greater than 200,000 deaths amongst folks with COVID-19, one of many highest tolls in Europe, and the selections of Johnson’s authorities have been endlessly debated. Johnson agreed in late 2021 to carry an inquiry after strain from bereaved households.

Hallett’s inquiry is because of examine the U.Ok.’s preparedness for a pandemic, how the federal government responded, and whether or not the “degree of loss was inevitable or whether or not issues may have been accomplished higher.” Public hearings are scheduled to start out in June, and Johnson is among the many senior officers attributable to give proof.

The inquiry has already landed Johnson in scorching water. He was considered one of dozens of individuals fined final 12 months for breaking his personal authorities’s pandemic lockdown guidelines within the so-called partygate scandal. Earlier this month, government-appointed attorneys serving to Johnson put together his submissions and testimony got here throughout proof of extra potential breaches of COVID-19 restrictions.

The brand new proof pertains to alleged visits to Chequers, the prime minister’s official nation retreat, in addition to potential breaches within the chief’s Downing Road residence.

Civil servants reported the knowledge to police, who say they’re assessing the brand new proof. Johnson denies wrongdoing.

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