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Thomas Cook bosses, grilled Tuesday by MPs, apologised for the bankruptcy of the travel company while defending performances, as the UK’s biggest union attacked the government over its role.

“I’m deeply sorry about this failure and I’m deeply sorry for the distress we caused to millions of customers who booked holidays with us and who were on holidays with us,” Peter Fankhauser, who lost his job as Thomas Cook chief executive with the group’s collapse last month, told a panel of cross-party lawmakers.

“I’m deeply sorry for our suppliers who were long-standing partners and who were loyal to us throughout this time.

“I’m especially sorry for all my colleagues who worked extremely hard and tirelessly to make Thomas Cook a better company,” Fankhauser added in testimony to the committee, which is examining the circumstances surrounding the travel giant’s dramatic failure.

Rachel Reeves, chairwoman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee of lawmakers, proceeded to tell Fankhauser that apologies would “ring a bit more true” if he was willing to pay back his 2017 cash bonus worth more than £500,000 ($629,174, 570,520 euros).

The money could be “put to better purpose” such as redundancy payments or compensation for taxpayers, she added.

Fankhauser replied: “In my reflections I will take that back, chair, and I will consider what is right, but I’m not going to decide that today.”

Thomas Cook’s demise sparked 22,000 job losses worldwide and triggered Britain’s biggest peacetime repatriation, with the government paying to fly home 140,000 UK-based customers stranded abroad by the company’s bankruptcy.

Reeves on Tuesday described former Thomas Cook chairman Frank Meysman “deluded” over the collapse.

“You can point to as many successes as you like but you have brought down a 178-year business with huge repercussions for customers, staff and taxpayers.

“You can point to the successes but I’ll point to the failures and they hugely outweigh the successes you’ve spoken about. I think you’re deluded Mr Meysman about the business you ran,” she added.

Dozens of cabin crew and other staff attended parliament in uniform to hear the former bosses explain the company’s failure.

Britain’s biggest union, Unite, meanwhile expressed “shock and anger” after the hearing revealed that the country’s transport minister Grant Shapps barred directors of Thomas Cook from speaking to government ministers in the fortnight before its collapse.

“While other governments throughout Europe were prepared to support parts of the Thomas Cook business and to seek to alleviate the damage faced by their tourism and transport industries, our government had installed barriers to prevent direct meetings,” Oliver Richardson, Unite national officer for civil aviation, said in a statement.