LONDON — Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher today accepted the resignation of Trade and Industry Secretary Leon Brittan, her office announced. It was the second departure from her Cabinet in two weeks of political turmoil over a financially ailing helicopter maker.
"Mr. Brittan tendered his resignation, and the prime minister has accepted it with regret," said a brief statement from No. 10 Downing St., Thatcher's official residence.
Brittan had been under fire for leaking a letter damaging to a Cabinet colleague.
Headlines in this morning's newspapers showed a wide range of conservative dailies believing that the government was in deep political trouble.
Brittan left the House of Commons this afternoon after seeing Thatcher and refused to say a word to reporters asking whether he had resigned. Grim-faced, he walked straight out of the Parliament building, got into a car and was driven away.
Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine resigned Jan. 9, charging that Brittan and Thatcher had used unconstitutional means to thwart his campaign on behalf of a European bid to rescue Westland PLC, a British helicopter company.
Thatcher, in a report to Parliament on Thursday, said Brittan had leaked a letter damaging to Heseltine during Cabinet in-fighting. She also said her own office had authorized the leak, though she had not known of it herself.
Her embarrassing admission to the House of Commons was followed by a stormy meeting behind closed doors that night of 180 rank-and-file Conservative MPs.
MPs Restless, Angry
Conservative legislators threatened today not to support the government unless Brittan went.
Terry Dicks, a Conservative member of Parliament, commented: "I cannot support anyone I do not believe in. I do not want to hear someone who I cannot be sure is telling us the whole story when he is delivering a speech."
He was among the many Tories who were reported to be threatening that unless Brittan resigned, they would not support Thatcher in an emergency Commons debate on the matter Monday.
"Government Shaken at Public Humiliation," read the banner of the independent Times of London; "Thatcher Statement Fails to End Credibility Crisis," said the Financial Times.
Television and radio commentators said the crisis is the most serious for Thatcher since she was elected in 1979.