Johnson warned of losing public funding for legal aid in Covid inquiry

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has received a warning from the Cabinet Office that public funding for his legal representation in relation to the Covid inquiry could be withdrawn if he attempts to “undermine” the government. The Sunday Times published extracts of a letter from the Cabinet Office, which instructed Johnson to submit witness statements to officials for potential redactions. This development comes as the Cabinet Office resists the inquiry’s request for unredacted messages between Johnson and officials.

Johnson has expressed his willingness to provide the material directly to the inquiry. The Cabinet Office confirmed that the letter was sent last week, but a government source stated that it was not in response to any recent event and had not been seen by ministers.

The letter from the Cabinet Office outlined that the funding offer would no longer be available if Johnson knowingly sought to frustrate or undermine the government’s position in relation to the inquiry, unless there was a clear and irreconcilable conflict of interest on a specific point at issue. Funding would only be provided if Johnson adhered to certain conditions, including submitting any witness statement or exhibit intended for the inquiry to the Cabinet Office for security checks and not providing evidence until any redactions deemed necessary by the Cabinet Office had been applied.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office clarified that the letter did not prevent Johnson from submitting any evidence he wished to provide to the inquiry. The spokesperson explained that the letter, written by officials, aimed to protect public funds and reiterated that taxpayer-funded lawyers must only be used to assist the Covid inquiry and for no other purpose. The Cabinet Office emphasized that Johnson had a duty to offer sincere witness testimony to the inquiry independently and without reference to the current government’s views.

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This week, a legal challenge was launched against the inquiry’s demand for Johnson’s WhatsApp messages and documents from the pandemic period. The Cabinet Office declined to disclose some of the material, arguing that it was not relevant to the inquiry, would infringe on ministers’ right to privacy, and could set a precedent that might hinder ministers from discussing policy matters in the future. Nevertheless, Johnson stated that he would be more than happy to provide the material, dating back to May 2021, to the inquiry.

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Jamie Cartwright

Jamie is a keen traveler, writer, and (English) teacher. A few years after finishing school in the East Mids, UK, he went traveling around South America and Asia. Several teaching and writing jobs, he found himself at The Thaiger where he mostly covers international news and events.

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