Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, has stated to the Covid-19 inquiry that he cannot provide WhatsApp messages from his tenure during the pandemic due to a lack of backups. This revelation comes as the inquiry’s second stage, led by Baroness Heather Hallett, begins, focusing on critical decision-making in Westminster between January 2020 and February 2022, when the final Covid restrictions in England were lifted.
Sunak explained in his statement that he doesn’t have access to the messages because he changed his phone multiple times, rendering the messages inaccessible. He clarified that he expected government officials to preserve any pertinent information shared via WhatsApp if it was deemed necessary for the official record.
This situation echoes a previous incident involving former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who faced a delay in handing over his pandemic-era WhatsApp messages because he had forgotten the passcode to his old phone. Technical experts eventually recovered these messages. According to reports, Johnson informed the inquiry that he couldn’t access messages sent during the initial wave of the pandemic between January 31 and June 7, 2020, despite efforts by a technical team to retrieve them.
The inquiry now possesses unredacted WhatsApp messages exchanged between Johnson and 40 colleagues, including key figures like Dominic Cummings and Simon Case, shedding light on the inner workings of the government during the pandemic.
The Cabinet Office had attempted to seek an exemption from providing certain information to the inquiry, but this was dismissed by Baroness Hallett. The government’s subsequent legal challenge was struck down by the High Court, affirming that the documents should be provided.
In response to these developments, Downing Street refrained from commenting on the leaked information, expressing concerns about selective sections of evidence being shared with the media. The government emphasized its commitment to the inquiry’s integrity and stressed the importance of presenting evidence in full context.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper criticized Sunak’s failure to provide his WhatsApp messages, labeling it a “disgrace.” Cooper argued that this incident mirrored past situations involving Conservatives, pointing out the need for transparency and accountability in government proceedings.