Adam Forrest, The Independent
Rishi Sunak is blocking the release of WhatsApp messages to the Covid inquiry because he fears they could show his plots against Boris Johnson, according to allies of the former prime minister. The claims — rejected as “total nonsense” by the Sunak camp — come as Johnson was warned he could lose taxpayer-funded legal support if he tries to “undermine” the government’s position on the inquiry. And a leading scientist has attacked Sunak’s “spectacularly stupid” Eat Out to Help Out scheme, as he comes under pressure to share his own messages about the much-criticised policy. The former PM remains at the centre of an astonishing row as ministers launched a High Court bid to challenge the inquiry’s demand for his unredacted messages and notebooks. Johnson’s allies claimed Sunak was launching legal action to prevent the release of ministers’ WhatsApps — suggesting he may be “hiding” plots or messages that put his Covid restaurant scheme in a bad light. One Johnson ally told the Mail on Sunday: “What is Rishi hiding? Is it plotting against Boris with Dominic Cummings? Is it because he himself broke lockdown rules? Or does he fear that his Eat Out to Help Out scheme led to a significant number of deaths?”
They added: “Both Rishi and Boris will give evidence in the autumn, and it will be a gift to Labour. We expect them to set up a war room and use it to beat up Sunak every day.”
A Whitehall source told the newspaper: “The government has taken a judge to court to keep other ministers’ messages secret. Why? What is team Sunak trying to hide? The cover-up office is a shambles and it’s only a matter of time before heads roll.” But a source close to Sunak told The Independent: “It’s total rubbish — as you can see from the Telegraph’s lockdown files, Rishi Sunak barely uses WhatsApp.” Asked about the claims by Johnson allies and whether Sunak was trying to hide plots against Johnson, immigration minister Robert Jenrick told Sky News: “No — the issue here is ... should you hand over material to the inquiry which has absolutely nothing to do with Covid.”
Jenrick said it is not “sensible or reasonable” to share material unrelated to Covid — and suggested a compromise was still possible, despite the judicial review. “I hope this can be resolved indeed even before the matter gets to court,” he added. Bereaved families told The Independent that Sunak should stop trying to “protect himself” and hand over his own WhatsApps so crucial pandemic decisions — including the Eat Out to Help Out scheme — can be scrutinised. Rivka Gottlieb of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group said: “It looks like Sunak is protecting himself. It’s indecent to cover things up. I want every relevant person in government to be handing over WhatsApp messages.”
Prof John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine — a member of the government’s Sage committee — said Eat Out to Help Out was “a spectacularly stupid idea and an obscene way to spend public money”.
The former adviser told The Observer the August 2020 scheme to offer Britons a discount to eat out in restaurants and pubs after the first lockdown was never discussed with scientists. Meanwhile, it has emerged that Cabinet Office lawyers told Johnson that money would “cease to be available” if he breaks conditions such as releasing evidence without permission. The former PM vowed to send all his messages to the official investigation directly, circumventing the Cabinet Office. The Sunday Times detailed a letter sent by Cabinet Office lawyers to Johnson last week. “The funding offer will cease to be available to you if you knowingly seek to frustrate or undermine, either through your own actions or the actions of others, the government’s position in relation to the inquiry unless there is a clear and irreconcilable conflict of interest on a particular point at issue,” it said.
The Cabinet Office’s recent referral of Johnson to police for suspected Covid rule breaches referral promoted a furious former PM to sack his team of government-appointed lawyers and ask for a new team at Peters & Peters law firm.
“Sunak is the better performer of the two by far, but the question is whether he can demonstrate that and use it to get across an effective message in the time available to him,” said polling guru Prof Sir John Curtice, of Strathclyde University.
Johnson announced on Thursday that he would stand down as prime minister after a mass rebellion in his Conservative Party, triggered by the latest in a series of scandals that had fatally undermined public trust.
As we all know, it has been quite a month for Boris Johnson. The revelations that have come out regarding the Downing Street parties have not only shocked the nation but also deeply impacted him on a personal level. When I look at Boris and what
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It’s so unfortunate that innocent people of Pakistan are facing another wave of terrorism in the country which claimed a number of precious lives on Friday