Carmichael questions ministers on new rules for WhatsApp use in government

18 Jan 2024

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today pressed ministers in Parliament on the need for clearer rules around the use of WhatsApp by ministers and officials in government. Mr Carmichael highlighted media stories in the past year about the use of WhatsApp messages by UK and Scottish government ministers in relation to the UK Covid enquiry, including both the content and appropriateness of messages, and the mass disappearance of relevant messages from ministers’ phones.

Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:

“I may be part of a very small and shrinking group, but I think it is sensible that Ministers, officials and advisers should be able to share their thinking and thoughts in private on occasion. However, the truth of matter is that the constant drip of stories—whether about Boris Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon or anybody else—and WhatsApp messages not being available to hold people accountable, is harming public confidence in government and politics. Will the Minister look again at this to see how we can have good, accountable and transparent government?

Responding, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office, Alex Burghart MP said:

“The right hon. Gentleman raised important points. I draw his attention to the document we published last year: “Using non-corporate communication channels (e.g. WhatsApp, private email, SMS) for government business”. I think he will be particularly interested in the summary table on page two.”

Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:

“While any progress in government on setting standards on the use of smartphones and instant messaging platforms is welcome, for as long as these are simply vague guidelines without clear rules and enforcement there will be a risk to public confidence.

“Between Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon we have seen the dangers of both blasé WhatsApp use and of mass disappearance or deletion of messages as revealed by the Covid enquiry. Whatever the excuses, the rules clearly need to be clarified – before the next scandal emerges.”

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