Eye watering legal cost of Sunak’s failed bid to withhold WhatsApp messages revealed

How much did the Government's failed legal challenge over a Covid Inquiry request come to

Rishi Sunak

The cost of an unsuccessful legal challenge, launched by Rishi Sunak’s Government to stop ministers from having to hand over all WhatsApp messages to the Covid Inquiry, has come to hundreds of thousands of pounds it has been revealed.

Nearly £200,000 was wasted on legal advice to the Government over its failed legal battle at the High Court, a lengthy Freedom of Information Act battle launched by Liberal Democrat spokesperson Ian Rex-Hawkes has exposed.

The Cabinet Office had disputed the inquiry’s demand to provide two years of WhatsApp messages, initiating a legal challenge under the grounds that some messages were personal and “unambiguously irrelevant”.

But its challenge was rejected and the government was forced to concede to the Covid Inquiry requests.

In its response to the FOI request, the Cabinet Office noted that “of November 2023 the total legal costs for the Judicial Review on the production of Government and Ministerial WhatsApp messages to the Inquiry were £192,739.”

However, despite the money spent and legal battle, both Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson have claimed to have lost large chunks of WhatsApp messages during the pandemic period anyway.

During his questioning at the Covid Inquiry last week, Rishi Sunak said he was not able to provide his WhatsApp messages from when he was Chancellor, because they hadn’t been backed up.

He told the Inquiry: “I have changed my phone multiple times in the years since then and I’ve said previously the messages wouldn’t have come across.”

Whilst former PM Boris Johnson was pressed on 5,000 missing WhatsApp messages, to which he offered a confused answer: “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.”

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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