A breakthrough may have been made in the bid to unlock Boris Johnson’s old mobile phone after an ally reportedly suggested the government had recovered a past PIN.
The deadline for handing over messages from the former prime minister’s phone to the UK Covid-19 inquiry was missed this week due to complications in gaining access to its contents.
It was reported by The Times that Johnson had forgotten the code used to unlock the iPhone.
Allies on Thursday suggested to the newspaper it was not correct to say he could not recall the PIN’s digits, but instead that he was not entirely sure of them.
Johnson was advised not to access the phone again on security grounds while serving as Britain’s leader in May 2021, after it emerged his number had been freely available online for 15 years.
The device likely contains messages relating to the ordering of lockdowns in 2020, along with his administration’s early response to the coronavirus pandemic.
An ally of the former Conservative Party leader said: “It is not true that Boris does not remember his PIN number, it is just that he does not have 100% confidence he remembers it.
“Separately, the Government has found its own version of the PIN.”
Whitehall officials were known to be trying to securely retrieve the messages on the phone, which is being held by the ex-premier’s lawyers.
According to The Times, there are concerns the contents could be wiped if the wrong combination of numbers is entered.
The Cabinet Office had until 4pm on Monday to hand over the unredacted WhatsApp messages from Johnson’s previous phone after it lost a legal challenge.
Ministers had fought a request from inquiry chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett to release his uncensored messages, notebooks and diaries from his time in Downing Street, arguing they should not have to hand over material that was “unambiguously irrelevant.”
But the argument was dismissed by the High Court last week.
The government has since handed over the rest of Johnson’s documents, except for the messages from the locked phone.
The inquiry, which heard evidence from Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove on Thursday, is understood to be aware of the efforts to securely extract any potentially relevant content from Johnson’s old phone.
A mobile security expert has cast doubt on claims the messages cannot be accessed because of a memory lapse on Johnson’s part.
Andrew Whaley, senior technical director at Norwegian cybersecurity company Promon, said: “This is a pretty lame excuse. Provided Boris’ WhatsApp is backed up, accessing the data would take minutes.
“As this is a diplomatic phone, the security measures may very well be different, but even still, it’s not an impossible task by any means.”