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Keir Starmer condemns government's 'slow' coronavirus response as dozens of firms claim PPE offers were ignored

Keir Starmer was appearing at his first PMQs since becoming Labour leader (PA)

3 min read

Keir Starmer has hit out at the Government's "slow" response to the coronavirus outbreak as dozens of UK firms claimed their offers to make protective equipment for NHS staff have been ignored by ministers.

The Labour leader spoke out at his first Prime Minister's Questions since winning the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn.

It was also the first time ever that some MPs were allowed to ask questions via video link as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.

Sir Keir said: "Over the last few days it’s emerged that British manufacturers have got in touch with many members of the opposition, probably members across the House, saying that they offered to help produced protective equipment but they didn't get a response from the Government.

"Now I do understand due diligence and that all the offers couldn’t be taken up. But some of those who offered to help are now supplying to other countries, so they clearly could have supplied in this country and something’s going wrong.

"And there’s a pattern emerging here. We were slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment. And now slow to take up these offers from British firms."

But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, standing in for Boris Johnson as he continues his recovery from Covid-19, accused Sir Keir of thinking “he knows better” than the UK’s chief scientific and medical advisers.

"We have been guided by the scientific advice, the chief scientist’s advice, the chief medical officer, at every step along the way," he said.

"If he thinks he knows better than they do with the benefit of hindsight then that’s his decision. 

"But that is not the way that we’ve proceeding and it’s not the way we will in the future."

Mr Raab also claimed just because the offers have come from British businesses it does not mean their products would be acceptable for UK standards.

Labour later said that 36 UK companies have approached them saying they have not received a reply to offers to supply PPE to the NHS.

One firm from Birmingham said it offered to supply 250,000 aprons and masks, another from Yorkshire says it can provide 100,000 face visors per week.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves has written to her opposite number Michael Gove with their details.

In her letter, she said: "Of these firms, if just one, five or 10 were able to contribute to the national effort of ensuring that our NHS and care workers – and indeed anybody who needs to use some form of Personal Protective Equipment and clothing – could be better protected, or just one hospital or care home were able to access adequate supplies of the PPE they need, I know you will agree that that would go a long way and make a big difference."

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