Boris Johnson's 'chaotic' Covid papers were 'random post-it notes & newspaper cuttings', source tells LBC

1 June 2023, 18:52 | Updated: 2 June 2023, 02:41

The source told LBC the reason the Cabinet Office took so long to scrutinise notebooks from Boris Johnson is because they were “absolute chaos”
The source told LBC the reason the Cabinet Office took so long to scrutinise notebooks from Boris Johnson is because they were “absolute chaos”. Picture: Getty
Henry Riley

By Henry Riley

A source has told LBC reporter Henry Riley the reason the Cabinet Office took so long to scrutinise notebooks from Boris Johnson is that they were “absolute chaos”.

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The insider claimed the former Prime Minister's notebooks were “random post-it notes, newspaper cuttings & bits of paper falling out” - hence not being able to finish the review within the allotted time.

Earlier the Unprecedented: Inside Downing Street podcast revealed Boris Johnson had an 'almighty row' with Sajid Javid over free Covid testing as the ex-PM declared himself 'bored' of coronavirus

The news comes just an hour after it emerged the government will fight a legal battle over the Covid inquiry's demand to release Boris Johnson's unredacted WhatsApp messages, diaries and personal notebooks.

The Cabinet Office said it was seeking a judicial review of inquiry chairwoman Baroness Hallett's order to release the documents, arguing that it should not have to hand over material which is "unambiguously irrelevant".

In a letter to the inquiry, released after a 4pm deadline to hand over the material, the Cabinet Office said it had provided "as much relevant information as possible, and as quickly as possible" in line with the order.

But the letter said: "The Cabinet Office has today sought leave to bring a judicial review. We do so with regret and with an assurance that we will continue to co-operate fully with the inquiry before, during and after the jurisdictional issue in question is determined by the courts, specifically whether the inquiry has the power to compel production of documents and messages which are unambiguously irrelevant to the inquiry's work, including personal communications and matters unconnected to the Government's handling of Covid."

It is highly unusual for a Government to take legal action against its own inquiry, with the move prompting swift criticism after days of public wrangling between the Cabinet Office and Lady Hallett's probe.

Labour accused the Prime Minister of being "hopelessly distracted with legal ploys to obstruct the Covid inquiry in a desperate attempt to withhold evidence", while the Liberal Democrats condemned it as a "kick in the teeth for bereaved families".

But in arguments contained in a tranche of legal documents and letters published on Thursday evening, the Government insisted that there were "important issues of principle at stake" affecting the rights of individuals and "the proper conduct of government".

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In making the judicial review application, the Cabinet Office argues that concerns are "sharpened by the fact that irrelevant material contains 'references to personal and family information, including illness and disciplinary matters' and 'comments of a personal nature about identified or identifiable individuals which are unrelated to Covid-19 or that individuals' role in connection with the response to it'".

Elsewhere, it is argued the inquiry's concept of what is or is not relevant could have "absurd" implications and would leave the body "utterly swamped" and potentially slow proceedings.

The row with the inquiry centres around Mr Johnson's WhatsApp messages, diaries and personal notebooks, which the former prime minister handed over on Wednesday to the Cabinet Office in unredacted form.

But the documents reveal that the WhatsApp messages passed to officials are only from May 2021 onwards.

In a statement to the inquiry, senior civil servant Ellie Nicholson said Mr Johnson's lawyers have not provided a "substantive response" to a request from the Cabinet Office for his old mobile phone.

Ms Nicholson said the Cabinet Office had received Mr Johnson's WhatsApp messages on Wednesday afternoon and was reviewing the material "for national security sensitivities and unambiguously irrelevant material, and appropriate redactions are being applied".