What wonders may Boris Johnson’s Covid-era phone and the WhatsApp messages inside hold? We can only speculate — or rather, we can’t, because the Herald’s attorneys have made it clear that that’s not allowed.
This week, the government’s official inquiry has attempted to gain access to chats about the pandemic to examine the decisions made by the government and the reasons behind them.
The former prime minister is said to be unable to remember the password for the device in question. Lots of people use familiar sequences of numbers like a child’s birthday, but to be fair to Mr Johnson, attempts have been limited – and who can remember that many birthdays?
Many would argue that it seems vaguely unlikely that the head of state has a phone model so outdated that it lacks fingerprints and facial recognition, but we have to take Mr Johnson at his word. Certainly, if such technology were in place, finding a lightly besieged haystack and pointing the phone in its general direction would be a simple matter.
With a nuclear war raging in Eastern Europe, it can be comforting that the man who until recently had his hand on the big red button was probably practically incapable of accidentally triggering World War III, always assuming of the Trident Code aren’t a stanza from some vaguely racist Imperial poem, which, come to think of it, they probably are.
Now it looks like government pundits are on the verge of a breakthrough, but there’s reason to believe vociferous tweeters may be disappointed.
While Mr Johnson has said he would be happy to share the messages with the inquiry – provided they could access the phone – that doesn’t mean the general public can see what the former PM wrote to Rishi Sunak in the early days of the lockdown or anything at all.
The Cabinet Office can request redactions before the messages are shown to other witnesses, government agencies and survivors, and the inquiry could make its own redactions. It is plausible, maybe even probable, that the decision will be made not to publish any of the news at all.
If that seems unlikely, it’s worth noting that the UK government didn’t officially acknowledge MI6’s existence until 1994, at which point there were no fewer than 16 James Bond films, and it wasn’t until October last year that documents related to them were released were released to the Profumo affair, almost 60 years after the initial investigation.
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Even if the news does get published, there’s little chance of finding any kind of “smoking evidence” from anywhere near Watergate. We can assume that the initial response to the pandemic has come across as both panicky and incompetent, but we knew that anyway, as did “After-work drinks?” 🍺🍺🍺” wouldn’t exactly be a shocking group chat message if you consider what we now know about Downing Street culture.
Likewise, it’s possible for conspiracy buffs that Johnson revealed plans to install the 5G mind control virus before assuming his lizard form and his reptilian claws rendering the touchscreen unusable, but all in all the odds for mundane government talks are mixed with some Bullingdon humor.
It is of course right that the inquiry can assess the actions of our leaders in this generational crisis and that Mr Johnson will be compelled to comply. Just don’t expect fireworks – or at least not unedited ones.
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