The UK government has cautioned former Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he could lose public funding for legal advice if he attempts to “frustrate or undermine” the government’s stance on the COVID inquiry. According to the Sunday Times, Cabinet Office lawyers informed Johnson that public funds would “cease to be available” if he violates conditions, such as disclosing evidence without permission. Despite the Cabinet Office’s opposition, Johnson confirmed on Friday that he had directly sent unredacted WhatsApp messages to the COVID inquiry, led by retired judge Baroness Hallett.
The Cabinet Office has initiated a legal challenge against the inquiry’s request for unredacted material, citing “important principles at stake” such as privacy. However, in a letter to Baroness Hallett, Johnson stated, “While I understand the government’s position, I am not willing to let my material become a test case for others when I am perfectly content for the inquiry to see it.”
Cabinet Office lawyers warned Johnson in a letter last week that his actions could lead to the loss of public funding for his legal defence. They stated that funding would “only remain available” if he adhered to conditions, such as allowing the Cabinet Office to security check “any witness statement or exhibit” he intended to provide to the inquiry.
The Cabinet Office clarified that the letter aimed to protect public funds, ensuring that taxpayer-funded lawyers are only used to assist the inquiry. Former Culture Secretary and Johnson supporter Nadine Dorries criticised the government’s stance, arguing that all evidence should be “unfettered and not restricted by gov censorship.” In response to the threat, Tory donor Lord Cruddas encouraged Johnson not to be “held to ransom” and offered to help fund his legal fees through supporters and crowdfunding.
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