Breakdown in communication caused UK to miss out on initial procurement – but government may yet join in European scheme
The UK did not take part in an EU scheme to buy more ventilators during the coronavirus outbreak after a mix-up meant the invitation to sign up went missing.
Boris Johnson was accused of putting “Brexit over breathing” after the government said it was going it alone because the UK was no longer in the EU.
The procurement scheme aims to leverage the trading bloc’s massive purchasing power to buy more of the life-saving machines faster and more cheaply.
Earlier this week the European Commission confirmed Britain was still “eligible to participate in these joint procedures” despite formally leaving the EU on 31 January.
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But instead Downing Street put out a call to domestic firms to come forward and manufacture extra ventilators, with vacuum giant Dyson among those offering to take part.
Asked why the government had chosen not to join the EU scheme, the Prime Minister’s spokesman replied: “Because we’re no longer members of the EU.”
However, after an investigation into the matter the government has now changed its position.
A spokesperson said: “Owing to an initial communication problem, the UK did not receive an invitation in time to join in four joint procurements in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As the commission has confirmed, we are eligible to participate in joint procurements during the transition period, following our departure from the EU earlier this year.
“As those four initial procurement schemes had already gone out to tender, we were unable to take part in these, but we will consider participating in future procurement schemes on the basis of public health requirements at the time.”
They added: “We are working round the clock with industry, the NHS, social care providers and the Army to ensure the supply of PPE [personal protective equipment] over the coming weeks and months and will give our NHS and the social care sector everything they need to tackle this outbreak.’’
Earlier Lib Dem MP Layla Moran had urged Number 10 to reconsider the decision to participate, adding: “We can’t put Brexit over breathing; lives must come first.”
And Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, told PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome: “With widespread concerns about our ventilator capacity and the urgent need to scale up capacity we should be co-operating through international schemes to ensure we get these desperately need pieces of kit.”