“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.”

Government spokesperson, Statement

March 26, 2020

Facts

When the government missed out on joining an EU scheme to procure ventilators, it claimed it had missed the deadline after not being sent the relevant emails. 

A government spokesperson 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.”

The claim was repeated by Business Secretary Alok Sharma, who said: There was an issue in terms of communications so the tendering process on those schemes had already started“

Officials in Brussels denied the government’s claims

Comments made by Matt Hancock on BBC Question Time a week earlier soon began to circulate. They appeared to show he was aware of the scheme. When asked about the scheme where 25 EU countries were coming together to buy ventilators, the Health Secretary said: “we are invited to be part of that.”

On 30 March, the Guardian reported that it had seen EU minutes showing that “a British official had joined eight out of 12 EU health security committee meetings dedicated to the Covid-19 outbreak since the group was set up earlier this year, shortly before China’s Hubei province was put into lockdown.” 

According to the minutes, at least four of those meetings discussed EU procurement schemes. 

On 13 April, The Guardian  reported that the UK missed three opportunities to join the scheme. 

On 21 April, the government was further embarrassed when Simon McDonald, the top civil servant at the Foreign Office, told the Commons foreign affairs committee that ministers took a “political decision” not to join an EU drive to procure ventilators and protective equipment. 

He retracted his statement later that day. 

Verdict

Reliable evidence suggests that the Johnson government’s explanation of the failure to join the procurement arrangements was false. The statement remains uncorrected on the BBC News website.

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