Mark Drakeford says all government WhatsApps will be handed over but cannot say if any were deleted

The First Minister has insisted the Welsh Government will release all materials requested by the UK Covid Inquiry, including WhatsApp messages.

However, Mark Drakeford told Senedd Members that he could not guarantee that no messages had been deleted in the period before it became clear the inquiry wanted to see communications using the messaging app.

Mr Drakeford also said he does not, himself, use that means of communicating, but has since been challenged on that by the Welsh Conservatives, who say they have a screenshot of an account belonging to him.

Andrew RT Davies said Mr Drakeford's claim he does not use WhatsApp "gave the wrong impression" and provided this screenshot. Credit: Welsh Conservatives

The use of WhatsApp for communication at the top of government has come under intense scrutiny during the UK Covid Inquiry led by Baroness Hallett.

There has been controversy over whether or not former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s messages would be released, criticism of misogynistic language used in some of them and further concern about the switching on of “disappearing messages” by ministers and officials in both the UK and Scottish Governments.

The First Minister was asked by the Opposition leader, Andrew RT Davies, if the inquiry had requested Welsh Government WhatsApp messages.

The leader of the Welsh Conservatives questioned Mr Drakeford in the Senedd.

Mr Drakeford said no such request had yet come but that he “made an early decision, together with my ministerial colleagues, that the Welsh Government would disclose all material requested by the UK COVID inquiry, including WhatsApp messages.”

Mr Davies then raised the question of “the deletion of messages on electronic devices—and there was instruction given by various Governments to make sure that that wouldn't happen through the course of the COVID crisis.

“Are you confident that deletion mechanisms or apps were not used by Government Ministers here in Cardiff or officials, so that information was retained to give clarity and entirety over the decision-making process that was made via the WhatsApp or electronic messages on devices that were used by Welsh Government Ministers or officials?”

Mr Drakeford said that “as soon as we were aware that the inquiry would wish to have material disclosed to it, no instruction of any sort was issued in the Welsh Government that material should be deleted.”

But he said he could not guarantee that that hadn’t happened before that point and that “I cannot promise that there were people whose phones, during the COVID period, didn’t have deletion arrangements in them that well predated COVID and which continued just as they normally would.”

Then to laughter in the Senedd chamber, he said that he does not have deletion switched on because he does not know how to do that and that he does not use WhatsApp, anyway.

Following the exchanges during First Minister’s Questions, the Welsh Conservatives challenged that final comment in an open letter to Mark Drakeford.

The Welsh Conservative leader sent an open letter to Mark Drakeford. Credit: Welsh Conservatives

Andrew RT Davies wrote that “in your answers this afternoon, you claimed that you do not use the WhatsApp messaging service.

“This concerns me, as I have been provided with a screenshot which demonstrates that you have a WhatsApp account.

“Your statement that you do not use WhatsApp therefore gave the wrong impression. I have provided a copy of this screenshot for your reference. I therefore request that you correct the record to confirm that you have a WhatsApp account and that you use the service.”

The Welsh Government has not commented in detail yet but said the First Minister will be responding to the Welsh Conservative leader’s letter in due course.

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