THE UK Government has been given another 48 hours to hand over Boris Johnson’s diaries, notebooks and WhatsApp messages to the Covid-19 Inquiry.

The Cabinet Office had until 4pm today to surrender the former Prime Minister’s files without redactions, but has now been given until the same time on Thursday.

After the Cabinet Office claimed it did not have all the material in its possession, Labour suggested there had been a cover-up, which the Government then denied.

However the stand-off between the government and inquiry chair Lady Hallett continues.

The Cabinet Office argued some of the requested material was “unambiguously irrelevant” to the UK-wide inquiry, but Lady Hallett said that was a decision for her team to make.

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The former judge also revealed other material initially deemed irrelevant by the Cabinet Office included discussions between Mr Johnson and his advisers about the enforcement of Covid regulations by the Metropolitan Police and had been of value to the inquiry.

Although early redactions had been removed, "it was not a promising start", she said.

The inquiry warned that failing to hand over Ms Johnson’s unredacted material as directed would be a criminal offence.

Fearful of setting a precedent, the Cabinet Office could yet go to court in a bid to keep the material secret.

The files include 24 notebooks with contemporaneous notes, as well as WhatsApp messages between Mr Johnson and cabinet ministers, advisors and senior civil servants.

Messages with then foreign secretary Liz Truss, then-health secretary Matt Hancock, the CHancellor Rishi Sunak are among those requested, as well as communications between Mr Johnson and his former top aide Dominic Cummings..

Announcing the delay, the inquiry said the Cabinet Office had sought an extension until Monday June 5 and said it “does not have in its possession either Mr Johnson’s WhatsApp messages or Mr Johnson’s notebooks, as sought”.

The Inquiry went on: “The chair rejected the request for an extension of time to June 5 2023, but granted a short extension to 4pm on Thursday June 1 2023.”

Labour said the evidence from Mr Johnson that has seemingly “gone missing” must be found and presented to the Covid-19 inquiry to avoid the “whiff of a cover-up”.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “The fact the Covid inquiry has invoked legal powers to compel the handover of crucial documents in the face of legal battles and delaying tactics shows this is a Government with much to hide.

“It now appears that vital evidence has gone missing. It must be found and handed over as requested if the whiff of a cover-up is to be avoided and bereaved families are to get the answers they deserve.

“It is for the Covid inquiry itself rather than Conservative ministers to decide what is and is not relevant material for its investigation, and this interference only serves to undermine the inquiry’s crucial job of getting to the truth.”

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said he had "no objection to disclosing the material to the inquiry".

He said the former PM wrote to the Cabinet Office last week saying he was not aware of any "instructions or requests from the Cabinet Office regarding this material".

The spokesman added: “The decision to challenge the inquiry's position on redactions is for the Cabinet Office.”

Rishi Sunak said the Government was acting “in a spirit of transparency and candour”.

The Prime Minister said: “The Government has cooperated with the inquiry; tens of thousands of documents have been handed over.

“With regard to the specific question at the moment, the Government is carefully considering its position but it is confident in the approach that it’s taking.”

The inquiry is due to begin public hearings in two weeks time, starting with sessions on the country's preparedness for a pandemic.

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It aims to identify lessons from the UK government's handling of the pandemic, looking at the use of lockdowns, decision-making, the impact of Covid on children and healthcare workers and protecting the clinically vulnerable.

Whitehall officials are understood to be concerned about setting a precedent by handing over all the requested documents in unredacted form, rather than deciding what material is relevant for themselves.

Former head of the Civil Service Lord Kerslake told BBC Radio 4: “There’s some cover-up going on here to save embarrassment of ministers, but there’s also the Cabinet Office fighting for a principle of confidentiality.

“I have to say I think they’re misguided on this situation. I actually think it would set a helpful precedent if Lady Hallett prevailed in this fight about the information.”

Sir Brian Levenson, who led an inquiry into press ethics, also said there was "absolutely no difficulty" in trusting the inquiry to redact material and decide what was relevant. 

He told the BBC: “The Inquiries Act invests great power in the chair to pursue the issues raised by the terms of reference, as he or she thinks appropriate.”

Asked if Lady Hallett therefore had a “very broad remit” to decide what was relevant, Sir Brian said: “That’s the proposition. The chair believes that the material she seeks is relevant to the inquiry. Now her decision can be challenged, but that’s by way of judicial review, which it appears... the Government are considering.”

The inquiry made a legal request on April 28  for material including unredacted WhatsApp messages and diaries belonging to Mr Johnson, from January 2020 to February 2022.

The inquiry asked for “copies of the 24 notebooks containing contemporaneous notes made by the former prime minister” in “clean unredacted form, save only for any redactions applied for reasons of national security sensitivity”.

The Cabinet Office resisted the request, made under section 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005, which also applies to messages from Mr Johnson’s former adviser Henry Cook.

In a ruling last week, Lady Hallett rejected the argument that the inquiry’s request was unlawful and said the Cabinet Office had “misunderstood the breadth of the investigation”.

Granting the 48-hour extension, the inquiry said if the WhatsApp messages and notebooks cannot be produced, the Cabinet Office must provide witness statements from senior officials setting out what efforts have been made to find them, including contacts with Mr Johnson. Officials will also have to explain whether the WhatsApp messages are on Mr Johnson’s personal phone or an official device.

The Cabinet Office must also explain if it had the messages or the former PM’s notebooks under its control at any time since February 3 and, if so, what happened to them.

Downing Street denied there had been a cover-up to spare ministers embarrassment.

Responding to Lord Kerslake's criticism, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “No.

“We want to learn the lessons about the actions of the state during the pandemic, we want that to be done rigorously and candidly.”