Boris Johnson has been accused of putting “Brexit over breathing” after the UK Government declined to take part in a European Union ventilator supply scheme.
The European Commission has brought EU nations together to leverage the trading bloc’s massive purchasing power to buy more of the life-saving machines faster and more cheaply.
The UK was invited to take part in the scheme, but UK officials confirmed on Thursday that Britain would not be taking part.
The decision not to participate has led to widespread criticism and accusations that the UK Government is putting ideology over people’s lives.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said she was “deeply shocked and concerned”, adding: “I urge them to reconsider their devastating decision to not participate. We can’t put Brexit over breathing – lives must come first.”
Dr Philippa Whitford MP, the SNP’s Brexit spokesperson, said: “The coronavirus pandemic does not recognise borders or ideology, and it is vital that the UK government does not turn its back on collaboration to tackle this virus and to protect our citizens.
“The UK government has been working well with the devolved governments across the UK, but cooperation with our EU neighbours, particularly in sourcing vital supplies, should be welcomed and engaged with – not shunned.”
The prime minister’s official spokesman, responding to the accusations, said: “Well we are no longer members of the EU.
“We are conducting our own work on ventilators and we’ve had a very strong response from business and we’ve also procured ventilators from the private sector in the UK and from international manufacturers.”
Pressed if the decision was related to Brexit ideology, the spokesman said: “No, as I say, this is an area where we’re making our own efforts.”
The row came as it emerged thousands of extra ventilators ordered for patients critically ill with coronavirus are not expected to be ready for a number of months.
“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 prime minister’s spokesman told a Westminster briefing.
On Wednesday, a key scientist who has been advising the Government, Professor Neil Ferguson, suggested the majority may be needed sooner than that.
He predicted that intensive care demand would peak “in approximately two to three weeks and then decline thereafter” if the current lockdown measures work as expected.