The EU has refuted comments from Matt Hancock that the UK has taken part in its Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) bulk-buying scheme.
Health secretary Hancock told reporters on Tuesday that his department had accepted an invitation to join the EU joint PPE procurement scheme as an ‘associate’ and had ‘yet to receive any PPE from it’.
He was speaking after top civil servant in the foreign office Sir Simon McDonald told the foreign affairs select committee it was a ‘matter of fact’ that the government had not joined any EU schemes.
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The EU Commission has hit out saying the minister’s claims are incorrect.
In a virtual press briefing, EU commission spokesperson Stefan De Keersmaecker explained the UK government was a signatory of an agreement to join the scheme but had failed to partake in a single procurement drive since the coronavirus outbreak.
He said: ‘In the context of the coronavirus, the Commission launched four such joint procurements (two on PPE, one on ventilators and one on laboratory equipment).
‘The UK is not participating in any of these procedures, but is most welcome to join in any future procedures.’
He stopped short of explaining why the UK has chosen to snub the programme, stating ministers had ‘ample opportunity’ to participate in sourcing efforts and were aware of it as far back as January 31.
He added: ‘The UK was, as was every other member of the health security committee meeting, aware of what was ongoing and had ample opportunity to express its wish to participate in joint procurement if it wanted.’
Senior Tory ministers have labelled the scheme as ‘inadequate’, despite attending a meeting on the programme on March 19. It had refused to attend an earlier gathering in February.
McDonald later retracted his comments to the select committee with an MP claiming the civil servant was ‘leant on’ to retract his claims.