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1986: Leon Brittan quits over Westland

Trade and Industry Secretary Leon Brittan has become the second cabinet minister to resign over the Westland affair.

Two weeks ago, Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine walked out of his cabinet post claiming his views on the future of the helicopter company were being ignored.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, revealed in a Commons statement that Mr Brittan had authorised the leaking of a letter which was critical of Mr Heseltine.

The letter, from the Solicitor General, accused Mr Heseltine of "material inaccuracies" in his campaign for a European consortium rescue package for Westland.

"Mrs Thatcher has got a lot of answering to do"

Labour leader Neil Kinnock

The prime minister and the rest of the Cabinet have been backing a deal with an American firm, Sikorsky Fiat.

Calls for Mr Brittan to go have been mounting. Last night, he faced them from his own party, at a meeting of the influential Conservative backbench 1922 Committee.

This afternoon, Mr Brittan went to see Mrs Thatcher and offer his resignation. He left Westminster stony-faced and went straight to Kings Cross to catch a train to his Richmond constituency.


He said nothing to reporters gathered at the station - the news of his resignation was announced only after the train had left.

Mr Brittan spoke to journalists on arrival in York.

He said: "I think that any minister must have, if he is to work effectively, the full confidence of his colleagues. This morning I made inquiries and I felt that I did not have that confidence and I therefore asked to see the prime minister to tender my resignation."

In a statement, Mrs Thatcher said she had tried to persuade Mr Brittan to stay in the Cabinet. She hoped it would not be long before he returned to high office to continue his ministerial career.

Labour leader Neil Kinnock said: "Mrs Thatcher has got a lot of answering to do to questions that she has dodged or avoided or ignored in the past several weeks."

In context
It later became clear Mr Brittan had also been manoeuvring behind the scenes to persuade British Aerospace and GEC to pull out of the European consortium.

He did not return to government - but was appointed a European Commissioner in 1989 and went on to become vice-president of the Commission under Jacques Santer.

He was among the commissioners who resigned en masse in 1999 following allegations of fraud.

He was made a life peer in the 1999 New Year honours list.

The Westland deal went ahead with Sikorsky. In 1994, the company was taken over by GKN. In 2001, it merged with an Italian company to become AgustaWestland.

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