Despite Court Orders, PM Fails to Disclose Crucial Messages
In a recent revelation, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has reportedly refrained from sharing his WhatsApp exchanges during his tenure as Chancellor with the ongoing Covid inquiry. Despite a high court mandate for ministers to unveil their communications for inspection, Sunak has claimed unavailability of these messages due to multiple phone changes and lack of backups.
These messages, dating from late January 2020 to end February 2022, could potentially shed light on critical decisions made during the pandemic, including the likes of ‘eat out to help out’, bounce-back loans and the furlough scheme. The disclosure of such communications had been deemed essential for a thorough examination of the government’s handling of the pandemic in this inquiry.
Former PM Boris Johnson too faced scrutiny for initially withholding his pandemic-related WhatsApp conversations, citing device safety concerns. However, in contrast, he later complied by retrieving and providing the messages from May 2021 onwards to the inquiry.
Matt Fowler, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, highlighted the necessity of Johnson and Sunak’s cooperation in this matter. He remarked, “If Johnson and Sunak don’t provide the inquiry with the messages it has asked for, they need to face the full force of the law.” He further criticised the extent of efforts made to conceal these communications, stating that addressing the mishandling of the pandemic should have been prioritised instead.
In July, the high court directed the government to submit any relevant WhatsApp and Signal messages to the inquiry, overturning the Cabinet Office’s initial refusal. The inquiry’s chair, Heather Hallett, requested two years’ worth of messages from Sunak, Johnson, and nearly 40 other key governmental figures and advisers.
Despite the legal directive, the Cabinet Office had initially challenged the inquiry’s demand, labeling it as excessively broad while expressing concerns over the personal information contained within the messages.
Sunak, expected to be the concluding witness in the inquiry’s second phase, and Johnson, slated to provide evidence in December, are both under the spotlight as the investigation seeks to delve into the government’s management and decisions during the health crisis.
This recent development underscores the importance of transparency in government operations, particularly in times of crisis, and raises questions regarding the accountability of high-ranking officials in the face of public scrutiny. Source