With EU countries hit by personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages, the European Commission hoped a Brussels-led procurement drive would complement national plans to increase the production of medical equipment. But Commission officials have conceded governments who have placed orders through the programme will still have to wait weeks for any deliveries. “For some PPEs, deliveries are possible within weeks following the placing of the order,” a spokesman said.
“But at this stage, no deliveries have yet been made.”
Britain’s participation in the joint procurement sparked yesterday a row between the country’s top diplomat and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
Sir Simon McDonald, the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, said it was a “political decision” not to take part in the EU scheme to buy medical supplies.
But he later rowed back on the claim and said it was a misunderstanding.
Last month the Government claimed invitations from the EU to join the programme were sent to an unused email address, leading ministers to miss a deadline to join its first rounds.
It later emerged UK officials attended a series of meetings in Brussels where the procurement plans were discussed.
“It was a political decision,” Sir Simon told the House of Common’s foreign affairs committee.
“The UK mission briefed ministers about what was available, what was on offer, and the decisions is known.”
In a later letter to the committee, he had claimed to have “inadvertently and wrongly” informed the senior MPs.
Sir Simon wrote: “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.”
Critics have claimed the Government’s decision not to join was motived by Brexiteer ideology.
When discussing the programme at the daily Downing Street press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he had discussed the issue with Mr Raab.
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“We did receive an invitation in the Department of Health, it was put up to me to be asked and we joined – so we are now members of that scheme,” Mr Hancock said.
“But as far as I know that scheme hasn’t delivered a single item of PPE yet.”
The European Commission has said Britain remains welcome to join further procurement rounds.
A spokesman added: “We understand it expressed an interest to do so.”
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The Government missed the previous EU tenders for PPE on February 28 and March 12, and a procurement programme for ventilators on March 15 and laboratory supplies some four days later.
The first PPE tender failed to attract sufficient interest so was renewed two weeks later, with member states eventually signing up.
Top eurocrats have said the procurement initiative has helped identify multiple firms and factories across the bloc, and boosted production of medical equipment.
Single market chief Thierry Breton said: “They have multiplied by three or even four-fold their production.”
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