The European Commission said that the U.K. had “ample opportunities” to participate in the EU’s efforts to jointly procure protective gear and medical equipment to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Simon McDonald, head of the diplomatic service at the Foreign Office, had told British MPs on Tuesday that it was a “political decision” by the British government not to participate in the EU’s joint procurement efforts.
He later withdrew his comments, after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a press conference Tuesday that London did not participate in the EU’s joint procurement efforts because of a communication problem. The British government had said last month that it did not receive an invitation from the European Commission in time.
The Commission rebuffed this line, with a spokesperson saying that the EU’s Health Security Committee, of which the U.K. is still a member, had discussed the issue “many times.”
“There was the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we want to join the joint procurement,” a Commission spokesperson told POLITICO. “I don’t see how an email sent or not sent would change that assessment.”
The EU had already announced on January 31 that it could help countries organize joint procurement schemes, according to the Commission.
“The U.K. was, as all other members of the Health Security Committee meeting, aware of the work that was ongoing and had ample opportunity to express its wish to participate in a joint procurement if it wants to do so,” a Commission spokesperson told reporters in Brussels Wednesday.
The EU is at various stages of procuring different protective gear and medical equipment. No member country has yet received any of this gear, the spokesperson confirmed.
The Commission has signed contracts to purchase gloves, eye gear and ventilators, but countries still need to sign individual contracts and place their orders.
Once countries do this, they should be able to receive protective gear in a few weeks, but ventilators will take more time because they are more complex products that take longer to manufacture.
The Commission has also selected suppliers for a fourth effort to purchase lab equipment, and is considering launching a fifth for therapeutics, which could include experimental COVID-19 treatments.
“We will participate in the joint EU procurement scheme on therapeutics, and we’ve also said we would consider participating on any other future procurement schemes, including PPE,” a Downing Street spokesperson told journalists in London Wednesday.
Cristina Gallardo contributed reporting.
Want more analysis from POLITICO? POLITICO Pro is our premium intelligence service for professionals. From financial services to trade, technology, cybersecurity and more, Pro delivers real time intelligence, deep insight and breaking scoops you need to keep one step ahead. Email email@example.com to request a complimentary trial.