Covid inquiry: Johnson WhatsApp messages still missing due to ‘technical issue’
A spokesman for the former prime minister said that he has fully cooperated with the inquiry.
Boris Johnson has denied deleting WhatsApp messages after it emerged that the former prime minister has not been able to provide the Covid-19 inquiry with any communications from February to June 2020.
It comes after the Times newspaper reported that Mr Johnson, who will begin two days of questioning at the inquiry on Wednesday, has told Lady Hallet’s probe that technical experts have not been able to retrieve WhatsApp messages between January 31 and June 7 – a time period spanning the early days of the pandemic and most of the first lockdown.
Technical experts had been trying to recover messages from his old mobile phone in order to hand them over to the inquiry. Mr Johnson was originally told to stop using the device over security concerns after it emerged his number had been online for years.
He then reportedly forgot the passcode. But it had been reported that technical experts had succeeded in helping Mr Johnson recover the messages for the inquiry.
A spokesman for the former prime minister said: “Boris Johnson has fully cooperated with the Inquiry’s disclosure process and has submitted hundreds of pages of material
“He has not deleted any messages.
“The Times report refers to a technical issue in recovery of material that is for the technical team to address.”
Mr Johnson was advised to stop using the phone and not access it again on security grounds while serving as prime minister in May 2021.
It had emerged his number had been freely available online for 15 years.
The device he used during crucial periods of the coronavirus pandemic was believed to contain messages relating to the ordering of the lockdowns in 2020.
Labour frontbencher Nick Thomas-Symonds said it was “typical and will be deeply disappointing to families who have lost loved ones and deserve nothing less than full disclosure”.
The former prime minister is expected to admit during the lengthy hearing that his government made mistakes in its response to the virus, but argue that its decisions ultimately saved lives.
Mr Johnson will also insist that he followed the advice of scientists and did not lock down the country more quickly because herd immunity was initially favoured, the Telegraph reported.
His style of government at the height of the crisis has been sharply criticised by former colleagues, not least his ex-chief adviser turned nemesis Dominic Cummings.
Mr Cummings claimed Mr Johnson asked scientists whether Covid could be destroyed by blowing a “special hair dryer” up noses.
He also alleged that Mr Johnson said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than hit the economy with further restrictions – a claim supported by former senior aide Lord Udny-Lister, but which Mr Johnson previously denied.
Meanwhile, extracts from the diaries of former chief scientific adviser to the Government Sir Patrick Vallance suggested Mr Johnson wanted to let Covid “rip” and believed it was just “nature’s way of dealing with old people”.
And Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said that Mr Johnson and his inner circle were “basically feral”, messages shown to the inquiry disclosed.
Other key figures have defended aspects of the former PM’s record, including Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove.
The minister countered suggestions that Mr Johnson had oscillated in his response, saying he “preferred gladiatorial decision-making rather than inquisitorial”, with two or three different cases “rehearsed in front of him”.
Former health secretary Matt Hancock said Mr Cummings had been attempting to grab power from Mr Johnson and created a “toxic” culture at the heart of government which undermined its pandemic response.
He also suggested Mr Johnson would have been under “enormous pressure” from then-chancellor Rishi Sunak not to impose another lockdown.
In an extract of his written statement published in January, the former prime minister said it was his “duty” to weigh up whether lockdown had done more harm than good.
He said there were “simply no good choices” available to government at the time, but that he “always attached the highest priority to human life and public health”.
On Tuesday the Liberal Democrats repeated calls for the Government to “come clean” over the cost of Mr Johnson’s taxpayer-funded legal fees for the inquiry.
The party’s Cabinet Office spokeswoman Christine Jardine said: “Boris Johnson has already racked up thousands of pounds in taxpayer-funded legal fees during the partygate probe.
“It is an insult to bereaved families that the Government won’t tell us how much is being spent on Johnson’s legal costs for the Covid inquiry.
“Rishi Sunak needs to come clean with the British people now, before even more taxpayers’ money is racked up paying Boris Johnson’s legal bills.”