Downing Street has claimed it failed to take part in an EU scheme to source life-saving ventilators to treat coronavirus because it accidentally missed the deadline.
No 10 initially said it did not take part because the UK was ???no longer a member??? and was ???making our own efforts???.
But after critics accused Boris Johnson of putting ???Brexit over breathing???, a No 10 spokesman clarified that it had missed out because of an error and would consider participating in future. It is understood the UK claims not to have received an email from the EU asking it to participate.
The mix-up means the UK has missed out on benefiting from the collective buying power of the EU. The bloc is seeking to use its clout to source large numbers of ventilators and protective equipment.
A UK 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.
???As the commission has confirmed, we are eligible to participate in joint procurements during the transition period, following our departure from the EU earlier this year.
???As those four initial procurement schemes had already gone out to tender, we were unable to take part in these, but we will consider participating in future procurement schemes on the basis of public health requirements at the time.???
The UK has chosen to source ventilators from British manufacturers who have never made the products before. Dyson, the household appliance firm, said it had received an order for 10,000 machines.
Asked why the UK was not taking part in the EU scheme, the prime minister???s official spokesman had earlier said: ???We are no longer members of the EU.??? He 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 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 thousands of additional ventilators had been ordered 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 be paid for its ventilators only if they passed regulatory tests. He said there had been an ???overwhelming response??? from firms offering to make ventilators, and 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 join the EU procurement scheme as well, in case it could source equipment faster.
Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat leadership candidate, said: ???I would do whatever it takes to get more life-saving 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.???
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 ventilator capacity and the urgent need to scale up that capacity, we should be cooperating through international schemes to ensure we get these desperately needed pieces of kit.???