Boris Johnson joined a video conference summit with other Group of 20 leaders on Thursday to make the case for an international alliance to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet there is one group of allies he is refusing to work with, even though his critics say collaboration could help save British lives: The European Union.
The prime minister’s spokesman, James Slack, insisted the U.K. will not take part in the EU’s joint program for boosting the supply of ventilators, vital kit to treat critically ill patients in hospitals. That’s despite suffering a desperate shortage of the equipment -- and the EU confirming Britain is still eligible even though it quit the bloc.
Instead, Johnson is trying to persuade British manufacturers to design and build thousands of ventilators as fast as possible. There were reports Wednesday that Dyson Ltd. has been asked to make 10,000 units for the government, but Slack cast doubt on this, saying none of the new models being offered had yet been approved for use.
The push for U.K. companies to help build the life-saving equipment was billed as a cornerstone of the government’s strategy to tackle the virus, and a series of high-profile companies -- from Formula 1 motor racing teams to corporate giants Siemens AG and Airbus SE -- signed up. Ministers have publicly dubbed it “the prime minister’s ventilator challenge.”
But opposition politicians argue the process will be too slow and the U.K. should have taken up the offer of joining the EU program, accusing Johnson of putting his Brexit ideology above the need to keep people breathing.
Slack insisted the reason was much simpler: “We are no longer members of the EU.”
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