Former prime minister tells Covid Inquiry that lack of detail from messages sent during key early weeks of pandemic is due to program ‘going down and coming back up again’
Former prime minister Boris Johnson has told the Covid-19 Inquiry that he was unable to provide the process about 5,000 WhatsApp messages from the crucial early weeks of the pandemic as a result of the software “somehow automatically erasing” them.
Johnson, who is giving evidence this week, was asked by lead government counsel Hugo Keith KC about the failure to provide the inquiry with the messages – which date from January to March 2020. This period covers the first cases of coronavirus being detected in the UK and the initial measures to track and combat the virus, before the country formally entered lockdown on 23 March.
The former PM told the inquiry that it had received “all the relevant Whatsapps”, and that he had not “removed any Whatsapps from my phone.” But, when questioned about the missing 5,000 messages, he suggested that they might have been lost due to the app crashing.
“I don’t know the exact reason, but it looks as though it’s something to do with the app going down and then coming up again, but somehow automatically erasing all the things between that date when it went down and the moment when it was last backed up,” he said.
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Johnson’s explanation echoes that given by current prime minister Rishi Sunak, who claimed he had changed phone number several times in recent years and failed to back up his messages – and, thus, was unable to provide WhatsApp communications from key periods of the UK’s pandemic response.
Meanwhile Martin Reynolds, who served as Johnson’s principal private secretary throughout 2020 and 2021, recently told the inquiry that he could “not recall” why he had activated a WhatsApp function to automatically delete messages from a group called ‘PM Updates’ that featured various key government figures.
The Scottish Government recently pledged to hand over more than 14,000 messages to the UK Covid Inquiry. But critics have still accused Holyrood leaders of “building a bonfire to torch evidence” amid reports ministers and senior officials routinely deleted many others during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.