The independent public inquiry into the UK government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has faced resistance from the government. The inquiry has requested access to messages of Boris Johnson with other UK officials during the outbreak. But the government is reluctant to hand over the material.
Heather Hallett, the chairwoman of the inquiry and a retired judge, has asked the Conservative government, now led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. To provide unredacted versions of WhatsApp messages and notebooks of Boris Johnson. Government officials claimed to have redacted only irrelevant material from the documents. But Hallett believes that the entire contents of the messages are potentially relevant to the inquiry’s lines of investigation.
As the chairwoman, Hallett has the authority to review the documents and determine their relevance. Hallett set a deadline for the government to produce the unredacted documents. Covering a two-year period from early 2020. However, the government requested additional time just before the deadline. Stating that it did not have access to Johnson’s WhatsApp messages or notebooks. Hallett denied the request to extend the deadline to Monday but agreed to a 48-hour extension until Thursday.
Government Resists Handing Over Documents
If the requested documents cannot be provided, the inquiry has requested witness statements from senior officials explaining the efforts made to locate them. The government has already handed over tens of thousands of documents to the inquiry. But is concerned about the potential precedent of disclosing Johnson’s unredacted conversations.
The Cabinet Office, a government department, argues that the inquiry does not have the authority to request irrelevant information beyond the scope of the investigation. Including personal WhatsApp messages unrelated to work.
The public inquiry, led by Hallett, aims to investigate the UK’s preparedness for a pandemic, the government’s response, and whether the level of loss was avoidable. Public hearings are scheduled to begin in June, with Johnson expected to provide evidence.
The inquiry has already raised concerns regarding Johnson’s conduct. He was fined last year for violating the government’s pandemic lockdown rules in the “Partygate” scandal. Recently, evidence of potential further breaches of COVID-19 restrictions during visits to Chequers and Downing Street has emerged. Which has been reported to the police. Johnson denies any wrongdoing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more than 200,000 deaths in the UK. Prompting calls for an inquiry from bereaved families. The outcome of the inquiry and the government’s cooperation in providing requested materials will be crucial in assessing the government’s actions during the crisis.