Boris Johnson told he could lose legal funding for Covid inquiry

Former prime minister told lawyer support will be withdrawn if he 'frustrates and undermines' government position

Former UK prime minister Boris Johnson may lose legal support if he ignores Cabinet Office direction. Reuters
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Boris Johnson has been warned that public funding for his lawyers will be withdrawn if he tries to “undermine” the government during the Covid-19 inquiry.

Following days of controversy over the former prime minister's WhatsApp messages and official diaries during the pandemic, a leaked Cabinet Office letter orders him to submit any witness statements to officials for potential redactions before they are passed on to the inquiry.

To protect ministerial privacy, the Cabinet Office, which acts as the corporate headquarters for government, is fighting the official Covid inquiry's request to see unredacted messages from Mr Johnson and officials.

“The funding offer will cease to be available to you if you knowingly seek to frustrate or undermine … 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,” the letter to Mr Johnson states, The Sunday Times reported.

Legal funding would only be available if Mr Johnson complied with certain conditions that include sending the Cabinet Office witness statements for scrutiny before sending them to the inquiry.

Mr Johnson has previously said he would give the material to the inquiry directly.

A Cabinet Office spokesman confirmed the letter had been sent but said it did not prevent Mr Johnson from providing the inquiry with “whatever evidence he wants to”, adding that the letter was “intended to protect public funds”.

A legal challenge to the Covid inquiry's demand for Mr Johnson’s messages and documents while he led Britain during the pandemic was announced by the Cabinet Office last week.

The Cabinet Office has refused to disclose ministerial documents, stating they were not relevant and would compromise ministers’ right to privacy, setting a difficult precedent.

Updated: June 04, 2023, 7:31 PM