Sir Simon McDonald was forced to backtrack yesterday after he claimed the UK chose not to participate in an EU ventilator scheme.
The Foreign Office’s permanent under secretary told a press briefing that the decision not to get involved in the procurement scheme was a “political decision” rather than a “communication error” as had previously been claimed, before later saying he made the claim “inadvertently and wrongly”.
This is very bad pic.twitter.com/NlxDKcqVzu— Matt Zarb-Cousin (@mattzarb) April 21, 2020
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was also quick to rubbish the claims later on after the comments went viral, saying:
“I haven’t seen that exchange but I have spoken to the Foreign Secretary (Dominic Raab) and as far as I’m aware there was no political decision not to participate in that scheme.
“The invitation, when it came in to the Department of Health – and I know there has been debate about whether it was sent to the wrong email address initially – to participate in this scheme in an associate way, because we are not members of the EU, came to me for decision and I said yes.
“It was a recommendation and I took the decision in the normal way – that’s the long and short of it.”
UK Health Sec @MattHancock said earlier the UK *has* joined EU joint procurement of #PPE…— Catherine Nicholson (@ACatInParis) April 21, 2020
Not so, says EU Commission spokesman @SKeersmaecker -tonight telling me UK govt *hasn’t* joined any of the EU joint procurement schemes set up amid #coronavirus response- see screenshot?? pic.twitter.com/E7V9Gx39l8
But there remains confusion over the course of events after footage of a European Commission press briefing emerged which denounces the UK’s claims.
Responding to questions from the FT and Channel 4 Stefan De Keersmaecker, the EU Commission’s spokesperson for health, food safety and transport, said:
“The UK is a signatory of the joint procurement agreement and is therefore welcome to participate in any joint procurement launched under the agreement during the transition period.
“The member states’ needs for personal protective equipment have been discussed several times in the meetings of the Health Security Committee, where the UK participated”.
Watch the clip in full below: