On Monday, following a so-called Humble Address put forward by Dominic Grieve, the former Conservative Attorney General and a leading Remainer, MPs voted to order UK ministers to not only publish Whitehall correspondence between the Prime Minister and senior aides like Dominic Cummings, his de facto chief of staff, but also the Operation Yellowhammer documents on preparations for no-deal.
When asked about the Government’s intentions, the Prime Minister’s spokesman made clear that Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister in charge of no-deal planning, intended to publish a “revised Yellowhammer document” and “provide Parliament with relevant information”.
But there was more equivocation on the issue of the internal correspondence.
The motion passed by MPs demanded the release of “all correspondence, whether formal or informal in both written and electronic form” relating to prorogation sent by officials since the day before Mr Johnson’s arrival in Downing St on July 24.
The correspondence demand includes messages sent via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Signal apps, by text or iMessage and from “private email accounts both encrypted and unencrypted”.
Nine individuals within Government were mentioned, including Mr Cummings as well as Mr Johnson’s chief constitutional lawyer Nikki da Costa and his communications chief Lee Cain.
The spokesman explained: “We have said we will consider the implications of the vote and will respond in due course. I’m not going to pre-empt that response. I would remind you that the scope of the information requested in the Humble Address is both disproportionate and unprecendented.”
One Whitehall source made clear that there was a balance to be struck between the Government’s obligation to publish information with the broader public interest, its legal duties and the “assurance Ministers can receive full and frank advice that will remain confidential”.
It is thought the Government is now consulting with its lawyers over concerns that the publication of private emails could breach the Data Protection Act.
During Commons exchanges Mr Grieve, who was one of the 21 Tory rebels sacked from the party by the PM, told MPs that well-placed public officials had given him information in relation to prorogation, which informed him that “they believed the handling of this matter smacked of scandal”.
But Mr Gove responded by branding MPs’ demands a “fishing expedition” in which every single communication to do with prorogation was being sought.
“It takes a coach and horses through our data protection legislation,” declared the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
He added: “Their desire to rifle through private correspondences of advisers is to set aside legal precedent and the rights of citizens.”
Johnson could try to defy MPs’ demands to publish private Government correspondence over suspension of UK Parliament
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