Rishi Sunak informed the Covid inquiry that he was not advised to save WhatsApp messages.

 Photograph: PA

   Rishi Sunak revealed in his testimony that he wasn't advised to save WhatsApp messages from his phone, even after the initiation of the Covid inquiry, and currently has no messages left from the pandemic period.

Addressing the inquiry on Monday, the Prime Minister explained that he has changed his phone multiple times in recent years and has never backed up his messages, a simple procedure that many users typically perform.

The Guardian had initially reported in October that Sunak intended to inform the inquiry about his inability to provide messages from the Covid period during his tenure as chancellor because he failed to save them.

In other parts of his testimony, Sunak admitted a lack of recollection regarding details of the meetings where the decision for the first lockdown was made, and he couldn't specify how much scrutiny was given to concerns about the potential overwhelming of the NHS.

Responding to questions from Hugo Keith KC, the lead counsel of the main inquiry, Rishi Sunak explained the absence of his messages, stating, "I’ve changed my phone multiple times over the past few years, and as that has happened the messages have not come across.

"As you said, I’m not a prolific user of WhatsApp in the first instance, primarily in communications with my private office, and obviously anything of significance through those conversations or exchanges has been recorded officially by my civil servants as one would expect."

When asked if he had been advised to save messages, particularly after Boris Johnson formally established the Covid inquiry in May 2021, Sunak responded, "I don’t recall anyone in my office making that recommendation or observation to me at the time."

In a related development, Johnson confirmed last week to the inquiry that he was unable to retrieve his own WhatsApp messages crucial to the early stages of the crisis, suggesting this was due to a phone reset.

During Monday's testimony, Sunak expressed a lack of recollection about how ministers debated the timing of the first lockdown in March 2020 and the extent of discussions on predictions that the NHS could be overwhelmed.

“I don’t remember those precise conversations,” Sunak admitted, leading Keith to remark, “This was, of course, one of the most momentous decisions in the history of this nation.”

Under questioning from Hugo Keith about his recollections of the decision on March 23, 2020, to implement a lockdown and the subsequent cabinet meeting, Sunak responded, “I can’t precisely recall that particular meeting.”

Sunak also stated he had not witnessed the reported dysfunction in Johnson’s Downing Street, noting that matters “felt fine to me.”

He refuted claims of using private conversations with Johnson to advocate the Treasury's view outside formal structures, emphasizing the “practical reality of being neighbors and sharing a garden,” leading to frequent informal chats.

“It’s clearly impractical to think that every single conversation between two cabinet ministers can be recorded in that way. I think everyone would accept that,” Sunak remarked.

Commencing his testimony with a broad apology, Sunak expressed deep regret to those affected by Covid, acknowledging the loss of loved ones and the various hardships endured. He emphasized the importance of learning lessons for better future preparedness and concluded with respect for all those impacted, stating, “It’s in that spirit and with enormous respect for all of those who are affected that I’m here today.”