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UK 'opted in' to EU ventilators scheme, minister says

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Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock attending a remote press conference on April 21, 2020.
Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock attending a remote press conference on April 21, 2020.   -   Copyright  ANDREW PARSONS/AFP/10 DOWNING STREET
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British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has denied accusations that the UK opted out of a European Union scheme to buy protective equipment and ventilators in bulk to help fight COVID-19.

On the contrary, Hancock said, the UK did agree to take part in the programme but it had "not yet delivered any PPE," or personal protective equipment.

Hancock was responding to a question from a reporter about comments from the Foreign Office's top civil servant Sir Simon McDonald, made public earlier on Tuesday.

McDonald said the UK had made a "political choice" not to join the scheme because it had exited the EU.

"It was a political decision. The UK mission in Brussels briefed ministers about what was available, what was on offer, and the decision is known," McDonald told MPs an oral evidence session.

Later on Tuesday evening, McDonald was reported to have sent a letter to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in which he said he had been mistaken.

British Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove previously cited a "communication problem" as the reason why the UK had missed the EU's invitation to participate in the scheme.

"The most important point that we concentrate on is: what are the offers that can get us the most PPE to be able to get it into the country, to be able to manufacture it here, and to be able to then get it out to the frontline," Hancock said during the briefing on Tuesday.

"We are doing everything we possibly can to make that happen."