The government has failed to hand over Boris Johnson’s Whatsapp messages and notebooks from his time as prime minister during the pandemic to the Covid inquiry by today’s 4pm deadline.

The inquiry’s chairman, Baroness Heather Hallett, asked for the former prime minister’s unredacted messages as part of the official investigation into how the government responded to and managed the pandemic. 

However, Downing Street finds Baroness Hallett’s demands an infringement on personal privacy which set a worrying precedent for invasions into civil servants’ and ministers’ private lives. 

The Cabinet Office letter said: “We consider there to be important issues of principle at stake here, affecting both the rights of individuals and the proper conduct of government. The request for unambiguously irrelevant material goes beyond the powers of the inquiry.” 

The government will now seek a judicial review where a judge will determine whether the Covid inquiry has overstepped the mark in its request for private documents. 

This comes after Boris Johnson said he had handed all the documents over to the government and was happy to cooperate with the inquiry. 

Johnson’s cooperation raises questions about why the Cabinet Office is so insistent on a stand-off and may spark rumours that it is the private messages of other ministers that the government doesn’t want the inquiry, and consequently the public, to see. 

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