High Court challenge by the UK Government to block the UK Covid-19 Inquiry’s request for Boris Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages and notebooks could be heard by the end of June, a minister has suggested.
Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin said the matter was being “expedited” and that it would likely be heard “on or shortly after” June 30.
He said all Government correspondence relating to the handling of the coronavirus pandemic would be “made transparently available” to Baroness Hallett’s investigation.
But he repeated the Cabinet Office’s earlier argument that the inquiry, in its request for former prime minister Mr Johnson’s unredacted messages and notes, was asking for information it deemed to be “clearly and unambiguously irrelevant”.
Let them have everything they want and let’s get to the truth
In an urgent ministerial statement in the Commons on Monday, Mr Quin said: “That material includes, for example, communications about purely personal matters and about other aspects of the Government’s policy and work, which have nothing to do with Covid.”
The Cabinet Office confirmed last week it would be applying for a judicial review after missing Lady Hallett’s Thursday deadline for handing over the information.
Mr Quin said he recognised that it was “important that this is resolved in the courts as soon as possible”.
He told MPs: “It is my understanding that the courts have indicated that we can use an expedited process and have a divisional court hearing which is expected to be held on or shortly after June 30.”
Mr Quin’s argument was rebuffed by senior Conservatives, who urged the minister to hand over all documents requested by the inquiry.
Veteran MP Sir Edward Leigh said ministers should “let everything hang out”.
He added: “ Let them have what they want and let’s get to the truth.”
William Wragg, Conservative chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said it was for Lady Hallett, a retired senior judge, to “determine” what was relevant to her inquiry.
Questioning the decision to pursue court action, Mr Wragg said: “There’s no prospect, and it is rather spurious nonsense to hear some ministers witter on about personal information about their children being disclosed.
“That is not the case and nor is it my understanding that any of this material would be subject to freedom of information request.”
Mr Johnson has been at the centre of the row between the Cabinet Office and the national inquiry into the pandemic, which he set up when in Downing Street.
He has vowed to send all his messages to the official investigation directly, circumventing the Cabinet Office.