The situation is baroque: Thursday 1er June, after a week of psychodrama, Rishi Sunak’s cabinet announced that it was challenging the public inquiry commission on the Covid-19 pandemic, which was set up by the government in 2022. In question are the tens of thousands of WhatsApp messages that ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson exchanged with forty of his ministers and officials, his notebooks and his diaries which the chairman of the commission, Judge Heather Hallett, demands have access to do their job well.
“The cabinet seems to have misunderstood the scope of the investigation”, underlined this magistrate renowned for her professionalism. Put on track in the fall of 2022, after months of campaigning by the families of coronavirus victims, the commission of inquiry is supposed to shed light on the management of the pandemic by the government of Boris Johnson. With the exception of the vaccine campaign, which was remarkably effective, this management has been widely criticized: lack of preparation, lack of protection for retirement homes, dubious procurement of public contracts, and a very high human toll, with more than 226,000 deaths. .
The Sunak firm justified its refusal to cede the communications, explaining that they were not “absolutely irrelevant” in relation to the subject of the investigation. He also explained on Thursday evening, acting “because certain important principles are at stake” which fall under ” individual rights” and of “the good conduct of a government”. Ministers are also entitled to the protection of their private correspondence and to a certain discretion over their decision-making processes, according to Downing Street.
Except that “it is up to the commission of inquiry to assess which documents are relevant in the context of its work”insisted Lord Mark Saville at the microphone of Times Radio, flying to the rescue of Judge Hallett. This magistrate knows what he is talking about: he chaired the famous commission of inquiry into Bloody Sunday (the massacre committed in 1972 by the British army against civilians in Derry/LondonDerry in Northern Ireland), and he had in this framework access to “a lot of documents relating to national security”.
Lord Saville is not the only one to find the position taken by the Sunak cabinet “very questionable”. Bob Kerslake, a former chief of the British civil servants, put his feet in the dish, on the microphone of the BBC, by even suggesting that“there is a bit of concealment” in the government’s refusal to transmit the correspondence, “to avoid embarrassing ministers”.
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