Boris Johnson could lose public funding for Covid inquiry legal advice if he 'undermines' probe, Government declares

3 June 2023, 20:26 | Updated: 3 June 2023, 20:42

Johnson is pictured outside Downing Street while serving as PM
Johnson is pictured outside Downing Street while serving as PM. Picture: Alamy

By Adam Solomons

Boris Johnson has been told that he could lose all public money toward his legal advice in the official Covid inquiry if he tries to release evidence without clearing it with Government officials.

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The former PM was warned in a letter from the Cabinet Office last week that pubic funding will "cease to be available" if he breaks any conditions in its funding offer, The Sunday Times reported.

Mr Johnson's legal advice in the inquiry, which is being led by former Court of Appeal judge Baroness Hallett, is being paid for by the taxpayer in a deal with the Cabinet Office.

The Cabinet Office wrote to Mr Johnson: “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 comes amid a spat between Mr Johnson and Cabinet Office secretary and Deputy PM Oliver Dowden, who oversaw the referral of Mr Johnson to police over suspected Covid rule breaches as the inquiry was prepared.

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Read more: Boris Johnson ‘more than happy’ to hand over material to Covid inquiry amid legal stand-off

Oliver Dowden is in charge of the Cabinet Office, which sent the spiky letter
Oliver Dowden is in charge of the Cabinet Office, which sent the spiky letter. Picture: Alamy

An ally of Mr Johnson told the newspaper: “Witnesses should be allowed to give evidence to the inquiry without being subject to the threat of their funding being withdrawn should they criticise the government.

"This is crucial for a fair process at the inquiry.”

Ministers last week launched a High Court bid to challenge the inquiry’s demand for his unredacted WhatsApp messages and notebooks.

On Friday Former Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast he believed the government's judicial review was "a bit of a fool's errand."

Marina Purkiss: Boris Johnson is making Rishi Sunak look 'fishy'

The former Cabinet minister said it was "wasting time" which was not fair on the victims and relatives of those who died during the pandemic.

Mr Johnson announced the Covid inquiry in March 2021, with its first public hearings now taking place.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “This letter from officials simply reiterates that taxpayer-funded lawyers must be used to aid the Covid inquiry and for no other purpose.

“The letter makes clear Mr Johnson has a duty to provide sincere witness to the inquiry independently and without reference to the views of the current Government.

“This letter was intended to protect public funds. It in no way prevents Mr Johnson from providing whatever evidence he wants to.”

Covid inquiry clash: What is going on with Boris Johnson's WhatsApp messages?

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