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Covid inquiry: Johnson told legal advice funding will stop if he undermines ministers

UK’s former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been warned that he could lose public funding for legal advice if he tries to “frustrate or undermine” the government’s position on the Covid-19 inquiry.

Cabinet Office lawyers told the former prime minister that money would “cease to be available” if he breaks conditions such as releasing evidence without permission, the Sunday Times reported.

Johnson has been at the centre of a row as ministers launched a high court bid to challenge the inquiry’s demand for his unredacted WhatsApp messages and contemporaneous notebooks. He said he would 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 letter added that funding would “only remain available” if he complied with conditions such as sending the Cabinet Office “any witness statement or exhibit which you intend to provide to the inquiry so that it can be security-checked by appropriate officials”.

Johnson wrote to the inquiry’s chair, Heather Hallett, saying he was sending all the unredacted WhatsApps he had given to the Cabinet Office.

He added that he would like to send messages pre-dating April 2021, but that he had been told he could no longer access his phone from that period “safely”. Security concerns were raised over the phone in 2021 after it emerged that the number had been available on the internet for 15 years.

The messages received before this date would cover discussions before May 2021 including those concerning the three national lockdowns he ordered.

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