PM blames ‘email error’ for not joining EU ventilator scheme - but Matt Hancock says he got invite

Prime minister Boris Johnson speaking at a news conference inside 10 Downing Street. Picture: PA

Prime minister Boris Johnson speaking at a news conference inside 10 Downing Street. Picture: PA - Credit: PA

After initially claiming it did not join an EU scheme for ventilators because of Brexit, it now blames an 'email error' for missing the invitation.

The prime minister's official spokesperson had originally claimed hours before the UK had ignored the EU joint procurement schemes, which allows access to the life-saving equipment more quickly and cheaply, 'because we are no longer members of the EU.'But by the end of the day Downing Street claimed there was a 'communication problem' which meant they either did not see or receive the email from European Commission.

They 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 [European] 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.'

A European Commission spokesman said the invitation remained open to Boris Johnson and his government.

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'If the UK wants to join in a future procurement scheme they are most welcome to join. They were also most welcome to join in the first four,' they said.

However, appearing on last week's Question Time, health secretary Matt Hancock appeared to know about the invitation and said the UK was engaging with the EU.

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'No, we are invited to be a part of that...' he explained. Asked if the UK government was going to be a part of it, he said: 'Yes we engaged with that process today'.

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Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth demanded answers on what was going on.

He said: 'Given the huge need for PPE, testing capacity and crucial medical equipment including ventilators, people will want to know why on Monday ministers were saying they 'chosen other routes' over joint EU procurement initiatives but now they are claiming that they missed the relevant emails. We need an urgent explanation from ministers about how they will get crucial supplies to the frontline as a matter of urgency.'

Lib Dem MP Layla Moran claimed that the prime minister was putting 'Brexit over breathing'.

Earlier in the day the government also contradicted Dyson's claims that it had taken an order for 10,000 ventilators for the NHS.

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