All of Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages and notebooks that were requested by the COVID inquiry have been handed to the Cabinet Office in “full and in unredacted form”, his spokesman has said.
The spokesman said the former prime minister wanted the Cabinet Office to “urgently” disclose the material to the inquiry.
A statement from the former PM’s spokesman said: “All Boris Johnson’s material – including WhatsApps and notebooks – requested by the COVID inquiry has been handed to the Cabinet Office in full and in unredacted form.
“Mr Johnson urges the Cabinet Office to urgently disclose it to the inquiry.
“The Cabinet Office has had access to this material for several months. Mr Johnson would immediately disclose it directly to the inquiry if asked.
“While Mr Johnson understands the government’s position, and does not seek to contradict it, he is perfectly happy for the inquiry to have access to this material in whatever form it requires.
“Mr Johnson cooperated with the inquiry in full from the beginning of this process and continues to do so. Indeed, he established the inquiry. He looks forward to continuing to assist the inquiry with its important work.”
The intervention by Mr Johnson’s team will heap pressure on the Cabinet Office which has come under pressure for holding on to the documents requested by the inquiry chair, Lady Hallett.
Lady Hallett had ordered the government department to hand over the former prime minister’s messages – alongside diary entries and notes – by 4pm on Tuesday 30 May.
However, the deadline was later extended and now stands at 4pm on Thursday 1 June.
It has been confirmed to Sky News that the inquiry has not asked Mr Johnson directly for the material and is waiting for the Cabinet Office to hand over the requested documents by the official deadline tomorrow.
Despite facing accusations of a cover-up, the Cabinet Office last night stuck by its refusal to hand over the documents, arguing that it was “firmly of the view that the inquiry does not have the power to request unambiguously irrelevant information that is beyond the scope of this investigation”.
The department said it has already provided “upwards of 55,000 documents, 24 personal witness statements, eight corporate statements” and that “extensive time and effort” had gone into assisting the inquiry over the last 11 months.
But it added: “However, we are firmly of the view that the inquiry does not have the power to request unambiguously irrelevant information that is beyond the scope of this investigation.
Boris Johnson strikes the first blow
Boris Johnson has struck a decisive blow to the government with his decision to hand his full and unredacted WhatsApp messages and documents to the Cabinet Office.
The former prime minister has moved swiftly ahead of the deadline for handing over the material to the COVID inquiry, most likely to the embarrassment of Rishi Sunak and the government.
And opposition MPs are now likely to turn their fire on to Downing Street – who have stood by their decision to refuse to hand over all the material.
Mr Johnson has decided to strike, he has handed over his material and it is up to the government how they respond.
This is a blow struck by Mr Johnson against those who claim he is holding things up and involved in some form of cover-up.
The pressure is now on Rishi Sunak to act.
“This includes the WhatsApp messages of government employees’ which are not about work but instead are entirely personal and relate to their private lives.”
If the government does not abide by the new deadline on Thursday, Lady Hallett has ordered that a statement be sent by a “senior civil servant” confirming the Cabinet Office does not have the requested information, as well as a chronology of the government’s contacts with Mr Johnson about the requests and whether the government has ever had the data.
Breaking a section 21 order could see the government face criminal proceedings, and there is also potential for a court battle over whether the information should be passed to the inquiry.
Speaking shortly before the inquiry’s announcement, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the “government is carefully considering its position, but it is confident in the approach that it’s taking”.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have criticised Mr Sunak for hesitating over the order, with shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accusing the prime minister of being “slippery”.
On Tuesday Mr Streeting said Mr Sunak should “comply with the inquiry and do it today”.
“One minute the government says the messages they have are immaterial; the next minute they’re saying they don’t exist. Which is it?”
He said the prime minister’s “slipperiness” gave “the impression of someone who is not fully committed to transparency, openness, accountability”.
Asked whether he was concerned about a potential “cover-up”, Mr Streeting said: “I think the fact the prime minister looks so slippery today will be a cause of deep anxiety to people who are following the inquiry closely – not least those families who have suffered bereavement and just want some honesty and some answers.”
The independent COVID inquiry, chaired by Lady Hallet, was announced by Mr Johnson in May 2021 and will examine the government’s handling of the pandemic.
The battle between the parties centres on messages Mr Johnson sent and received, as well as his diaries and his notebooks from during the pandemic.
The row started when the inquiry issued a legal notice to the Cabinet Office last week for not handing over the full contents of Mr Johnson’s messages.
While the government believes it has no duty to disclose “unambiguously irrelevant” material, Lady Hallett disagrees -and under the Inquiries Act 2005, she has the final word.
In her response to the government, she rejected their argument about the Cabinet Office deciding what or what isn’t “unambiguously irrelevant”.
She said in her ruling that all these documents “contain information that is potentially relevant” to how decisions were made during the pandemic.
Viktor Sokolov: Top Russian admiral appears in video call – after Ukraine claimed he was killed in missile strike
A top Russian admiral has appeared in a video call – a day after Ukrainian special forces claimed he had been killed in a missile strike.
Admiral Viktor Sokolov – the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and one of Russia’s most senior naval officers – was reportedly killed in last week’s strike on the naval port of Sevastopol, according to Ukrainian officials.
The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond when asked by news agencies to confirm or deny if Mr Sokolov had been killed.
However, the ministry released a video on Tuesday appearing to show Mr Sokolov attending a conference with other top Russian military officials via video link.
Mr Sokolov was not seen speaking in the footage of the conference – led by Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu.
It is not clear when the footage was filmed, though Russia’s defence ministry claimed the meeting took place on Tuesday.
Ukraine special forces said on Telegram: “Since the Russians were urgently forced to publish a response with Sokolov allegedly alive, our units are clarifying the information.”
In the video, Mr Shoigu said more than 17,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in September and that more than 2,700 weapons, including seven American Bradley fighting vehicles, had been destroyed.
Both Russia and Ukraine have at times exaggerated enemy losses in the war, while also saying little about their own losses.
Michael Clarke: It is possible Admiral Sokolov lives – but Russia needs to produce more convincing evidence
Sky News’ defence and security analyst Professor Michael Clarke says: “We’ve looked at the video, it’s not very clear and it jumps around quite a lot.
“We’ve located the person on the video who looks most like Sokolov, and it may be him, but it’s not a completely clear match.
“It could be Sokolov, looking at previous photographs of him. On the other hand, there’s still no proof that this video is really current.
“There’s a lot of evidence that Sokolov was in the building that was hit on Friday by a couple of Storm Shadow missiles.
“So it is possible that Sokolov lives. But I think the Russians would have to produce more convincing evidence than this if they want to be taken seriously on this particular issue.
“And it’s odd that producing a rather vague video and saying he’s here somewhere and leaving it to news organisations like us to try to work out who it might be is less than clear in the message they were trying to send.”
On Monday, Ukraine’s special forces claimed they had killed Mr Sokolov and 33 other officers in last week’s missile attack on the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.
“After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet,” Ukraine’s special forces said on the Telegram messaging app.
“Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on Ukraine’s claim that it had killed Mr Sokolov, instead referring reporters to the defence ministry.
In a statement after the attack, the Russian defence ministry said one serviceman was missing, revising an earlier statement that the man had been killed.
Moscow-installed authorities in Sevastopol also said they were taking extra measures to address Ukraine’s increased attacks on Crimea.
The attack came after an earlier strike on Sevastopol, in which a Russian submarine and warship were damaged.
A Ukrainian and a Western source said that British Storm Shadow cruise missiles were deployed in the attack on the port of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Alexei Navalny: Russian opposition leader loses appeal against extra 19-year prison sentence
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has lost his appeal against a 19-year sentence added to his existing jail term.
It was imposed in August after he was convicted on six charges related to alleged extremist activity – which he denied.
The appeal was rejected by a judge in Moscow, with Mr Navalny – wearing a black prison uniform – joining by video link from prison.
Media were not allowed to witness proceedings apart from the reading of the verdict.
The 19-year sentence was imposed on top of 11 and a half years that he was already serving after being convicted of fraud and other charges.
His political movement has been outlawed and declared “extremist”, with its main players either being jailed or fleeing Russia.
President Putin makes a point of never referring to Mr Navalny by name as part of an attempt by authorities to portray him as irrelevant.
The 47-year-old politician returned to the country voluntarily in 2021 after nearly dying when he was poisoned with a nerve agent in a suspected Russian plot.
He was immediately arrested when he landed and is imprisoned in Melekhovo, about 145 miles (235 km) east of Moscow.
Mr Navalny said in the summer that he had been forced to listen to the same speech by President Putin for more than 100 days in a row.
A TV technician who worked for Mr Navalny, sentenced at the same trial in August, also had his appeal against an eight-year sentence rejected on Tuesday.
Daniel Kholodny shouted “Alexei, see you!” just before the video feed of the hearing ended, with Mr Navalny waving his hand in response.
Body of migrant found on Sangatte beach near Calais
A body of a migrant was found this morning on Sangatte beach near Calais.
The authorities confirmed she was a 24-year-old Eritrean woman.
In August, at least six people died and dozens more were rescued after a migrant boat crossing the English Channel capsized.
The incident took place off Sangatte in northern France.
A vigil was held in the port town of Folkestone for the victims as participants called for “safe routes” and “enough deaths”.
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