Downing Street has declined to take part in an EU scheme to source life-saving ventilators to treat coronavirus because the UK is “no longer a member” and is “making our own efforts”.
Critics accused Boris Johnson of putting “Brexit over breathing” after No 10 said it did not need to participate in the EU effort to procure equipment to fight coronavirus.
The EU has said it is open to the UK taking part in the programme, which seeks to use its bulk-buying power to get new ventilators at the best price.
The UK has instead chosen to source ventilators from British manufacturers who have never made the products before, ordering 10,000 machines from the household appliance firm Dyson.
Asked why the UK was not taking part, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We are no longer members of the EU.” He also stressed that the UK was “making our own efforts” in this area.
When asked whether it would be hard for people to understand this decision, particularly in the light of the fact Johnson has called for international cooperation in the fight against coronavirus, the spokesman said: “I’m not sure that it is.”
Ministers have acknowledged the UK needs thousands more ventilators to prepare for the peak of the pandemic, adding to the 8,000 the NHS already has.
No 10 said on Thursday that 8,000 additional ventilators had been ordered to boost its stock but it could not put a timescale on their arrival.
The spokesman said: “We would say we expect thousands of those to arrive in the coming weeks, and thousands more in the pipeline to arrive in the coming months.”
The spokesman said Dyson would only be paid for the 10,000 ventilators ordered by the government if they passed the required regulatory tests. He said there had been an “overwhelming response” from firms offering to make ventilators and that the government was now testing “proof of concept” with a number of suppliers.
“New orders are all dependent on machines passing regulatory tests,” he said.
However, opposition figures said the UK should be joining the EU procurement scheme as well, in case it could source equipment faster.
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat leadership candidate, said she was “deeply shocked and concerned by the government’s decision not to participate”.
“I would do whatever it takes to get more lifesaving equipment, and they need to take the same approach. It’s a no-brainer we can help the NHS and save lives by working together with other countries,” she said.
“I wrote to the government a week ago urging them to put pragmatism above ideological considerations and urgently opt into the EU joint procurement scheme. Now I urge them to reconsider their devastating decision to not participate. We can’t put Brexit over breathing; lives must come first.”
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “We raised this with ministers in the Commons earlier this week and did not receive a satisfactory response.
“With widespread concerns about our…
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