Chris Bryant, the MP for Rhondda, said “I don’t believe a word” of a U-turn letter by Sir Simon McDonald, who is permanent undersecretary and head of the Diplomatic Service at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
McDonald initially told the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday that ministers took a “political decision” not to take part in the EU’s Joint Procurement Agreement scheme, which would have given the UK a chance to buy ventilators which help coronavirus patients breathe.
However, he later rowed back on the comments, saying in a “clarification” letter to committee chair Tom Tugendhat: “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.
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“The facts of the situation are as previously set out. Owing to an initial communication problem, the UK did not receive an invitation in time to join in four joint COVID EU procurement schemes.
“As those four initial schemes had gone out to tender, we were unable to take part.”
Bryant, however, rejected this and also claimed health secretary Matt Hancock chaired a Cobra meeting in which the scheme was discussed.
I don’t believe a word of this. And I’m told COBRA discussed the delicate question of whether to take part with Hancock in the chair. https://t.co/nYuvWq5oa8— Chris Bryant (@RhonddaBryant) April 22, 2020
In a later post, he also rejected Tugendhat’s statement that McDonald’s letter was a “clarification”:
It’s not a clarification. It’s a denial of what he said previously. The committee should ask for a point by point calendar of events because others who were at cobra meetings have different accounts https://t.co/EuPNTyo0MA— Chris Bryant (@RhonddaBryant) April 22, 2020
Yahoo News UK has contacted the Department of Health regarding Bryant’s claims.
Britain would have been entitled to join the EU ventilator scheme as part of its “transition period” agreement with the bloc following its departure on 31 January.
The scheme was designed to reduce competition and cut prices among member states needing ventilators.
Bryant, meanwhile, has previously spoken out about the language used when talking about coronavirus.
Two weeks ago, when Boris Johnson was in intensive care with COVID-19, Bryant said calling the prime minister a “fighter” was “deeply offensive” to those who die from the disease as it “implies they are to blame”.