ishi Sunak has denied that the Government is resisting the release of messages to the Covid inquiry because he fears embarassment.
Speaking to the BBC, the Prime Minister insisted the Government was acting with “candour and transparency” despite a judicial challenge against the inquiry over its demands to hand over Boris Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages.
The inquiry, chaired by Baroness Hallet, has requested access to unredacted messages on Mr Johnson’s phone between him and around 40 politicians and officials, dating back to May 2021. These include messages sent by Mr Sunak.
Mr Johnson himself has said he is happy to hand over the unredacted messages to the inquiry.
But the Cabinet Office claims that some of the information requested by the Covid Inquiry does not relate to the Government’s handling of the pandemic and is “unambiguously irrelevant”.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner earlier said the Government was “obstructing the Covid inquiry” by launching the legal challenge.
Mr Sunak denied that he was concerned that some of the messages released could embarrass him personally.
“I as well am co-operating and providing information to the inquiry,” he told the broadcaster.
“It’s actually taking a lot of my own time, and that’s right that I do that.”
He said the work of the inquiry was “important and necessary”, but stopped short of expressing full confidence in it and its chairwoman.
Asked if he had full confidence in Lady Hallett, he replied: “I think the Covid inquiry is doing important and necessary work.”
The inquiry will begin public hearings next week and focus on the Government’s preparedness for the pandemic and its response.
In a feisty exchange with Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden on Wednesday, Ms Rayner accused ministers of spending taxpayers’ money on “loophole lawyers” in an attempt to block the inquiry from being handed Mr Johnson’s WhatsApp correspondence and notebooks.
“They set up the inquiry to get to the truth, then blocked that inquiry from getting the information that it asked for, and now they’re taking it to court,” she said.
Mr Dowden, who was standing in for Mr Sunak at Prime Minister’s Questions as the Prime Minister is on a trip to the US, said all Government Covid-related discussions would be handed to the inquiry.
“We will provide the inquiry with each and every document related to Covid, including all internal discussions in any form as requested, while crucially protecting what is wholly and unambiguously irrelevant.
“Because essentially (Lady Hallett) is calling for years worth of documents and messages between named individuals to be in scope and that could cover anything from civil servants’ medical conditions to intimate details about their families.”