The ministers have another two days to deliver Boris Johnson to the Covid investigation, which demanded proof that officials did not have any WhatsApp messages or notebooks from the former prime minister.
The inquiry, chaired by Heather Hallett, said the Cabinet Office had until 4pm on Thursday June 1 to turn over the documents and messages.
The government claimed to have no copies of Johnson’s WhatApp messages or notebooks, said the inquiry, which requested a witness statement from a senior official verifying that this was the case, along with a record of the searches carried out.
The investigation previously issued rulings requiring notebooks, diaries and messages between Johnson and 40 other senior government figures. He also requested copies of messages on devices held by his adviser, Henry Cook, and the same list of figures.
However, the Cabinet Office has been considering whether to challenge the request in court, arguing that the inquiry does not have the power to demand this raw material.
Lady Hallett has demanded that the entire cache of messages and diaries be turned over to the inquiry two weeks before the first public evidence sessions. But Cabinet Office lawyers are said to have reported that the inquiry does not have the powers to request access to all documents, raising the question legal arbitration perspective and possible judicial review.
Launching a legal challenge against the ruling by the head of a public inquiry would be unprecedented, the sources said.
Inside government sources have said that handing over Johnson’s unedited diaries and WhatsApp messages from the former prime minister and Cook would be an affront to their privacy and the right to discuss private policy.
A new notice from the inquiry said on Tuesday: “The inquiry has been advised that the Cabinet Office is in possession of neither Mr. Johnson’s WhatsApp messages nor Mr. Johnson’s notebooks, as requested in the original notice. of section 21.
“The notice has been modified so that if the Cabinet Office maintains its position that it does not possess specific materials, it must instead provide a witness statement from a senior official, verified by a statement of truth.”
This statement should specify that the Cabinet Office does not have in its custody or control the specified WhatsApp materials, nor any copies of them, nor a record of the searches carried out, nor a chronology of correspondence with Johnson or his office. , regarding the identification of potentially relevant WhatsApp materials in its possession.
The inquiry also asks whether the Cabinet Office has had in its possession or control any of the requested materials and whether the potentially relevant messages in Johnson’s possession are on a personal device or a Cabinet Office/No 10 device. .