Fresh questions launched surrounding UK’s delay in joining EU equipment scheme
The government’s delay in joining an EU scheme to source medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic has gained renewed interest following claims made by a senior civil servant.
Yesterday, Sir Simon McDonald, the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, was forced to retract claims that the UK made a “political decision” not to participate in the scheme. This follows UK officials insisting that they were not privy to the initial invitation, citing communication errors.
Sources from Brussels contradicted this, stating that the UK was provided with sufficient time to partake in the scheme.
Sir Simon said that: "We left the European Union on 31 January.
"All I can say is that it is a matter of fact that we have not taken part. It was a political decision... and the decision is no."
Some five hours later, he was forced to retract his comments, writing that: "Due to a misunderstanding, I inadvertently and wrongly told the committee that ministers were briefed on the joint EU procurement scheme and took a political decision not to take part in it.
"That is incorrect. Ministers were not briefed by our mission in Brussels about the scheme and a political decision was not taken on whether or not to participate."
The government has already faced considerable criticism due to their decision not to participate in the EU scheme to bulk buy ventilators, PPE and testing kits, used to combat the Covid-19 outbreak. Downing street claimed that the UK was making its own arrangements to combat the virus, given that the country was no longer part of the EU. Ministers added that anti-EU sentiments had not impacted the decision.
In an official statement later released by No 10, it was alleged that officials did not see the email, as a result of a "communication confusion".
The UK has now joined the scheme.