Conservative MP defends emergency planning on contraception, says comment was misunderstood

A key Conservative lawmaker on Thursday rejected claims that he tried to pull a U-turn on the “non-emergency” declaration that has allowed government approval of emergency measures for contraceptives.

In a letter to The Washington Post from Baghdad, Iraq, where he is participating in a search and rescue mission, Tom Tugendhat defended a previously announced U-turn he made as chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. The statement was carried on the Foreign Office’s website.

“I will be saying much more on this in a few weeks,” Tugendhat wrote.

Since Tuesday, the Foreign Office has been defending the changes to Plan B that followed a late-night question from a Conservative backbencher, Matt Hancock, and the uproar this has caused in the Tory ranks. The newspaper Daily Mail reported that a section of white paper dealing with U.K. assistance to other countries in dealing with an outbreak of an ebola-like coronavirus was removed at the instruction of the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.

“Clearly, some papers on the circulation of free to MPs of information on the restrictions on Plan B could be seen as insufficient,” Hancock said in question period on Tuesday.

The setback was the latest blow to the U.K.’s single-handed effort to prevent the dangers of the new CERV from spreading around the world and emerge as a more serious threat to humans, which many say lies beyond the containment measures in place. U.K. authorities had not previously designated the virus as an “emergency” scenario in that it would not be automatically warranting quarantines or medical help.

However, the World Health Organization has warned that the virus could quickly emerge as a much more serious infection. CERV was originally discovered last year, though there is still no conclusive proof that it is infected with the live form of the Ebola virus.

Hancock’s intervention and the subsequent backlash against it marked a high-profile defeat for Johnson, whose stated aims of being at the forefront of major foreign policy decisions has been undermined by the move and widespread opposition.

Reporters have repeatedly pressed Johnson in recent weeks about his belief that intervention in Syrian civil wars is warranted as Russia continues to deliver more sophisticated weaponry to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Johnson’s reluctance to take a firm stance on intervention has also been called into question.

Johnson has said that the recent U.S. airstrike in Syria was “completely illegal” but that he was prepared to defend what he sees as the United Kingdom’s responsibility to protect the U.K. from foreign threats. He has also, however, increasingly declined to give answers that have been sought by journalists when he sees fit. He said last week that he would not respond to an open question about his past support for assisted suicide because it “would be for our partners in the media to decide what to ask, not us.”

But Tugendhat, a former infantry officer and staunch opponent of intervention in Iraq, has loudly criticized the Foreign Office after its initial decision to wait until the midpoint of the UN’s approval process before activating the emergency planning measures.

“Some may question the motives of the committee, but no one can question the unanimous support of the Committee for keeping our public safe and well,” Tugendhat wrote.

The Foreign Office said it had no other way to respond to Hancock’s question because the full-time arrangements of the foreign secretary had been “finalized and binding on ministers.”

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