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7. Defining moments of the Thatcher years | Heseltine resigns | 9 January 1986

The Westland affair

Michael Heseltine stormed out of 10 Downing Street after stating that his views on the future of the Westland helicopter company were being ignored by Thatcher. She had informed her defence secretary that all his comments on the Westland company would need to be vetted by officials before being released. Heseltine was incensed:

[I]f the basis of trust between the prime minister and her defence secretary no longer exists, there is no place for me with honour in such a cabinet.

Faced with financial difficulty, Westland Helicopters was forced to accept a buyout from another company. An initial offer was made by a US firm, Sikorsky, and another by a European defence consortium. Thatcher and the Westland directors favoured the US offer, but Heseltine and several others were concerned about increasing Britain's military dependence on the US and supported the European offer

The Westland affair, as it is now known, almost dislodged Thatcher. And Heseltine's resignation prompted a further resignation of a senior Tory minister just 15 days later. The trade and industry secretary, Leon Brittan, resigned after allegations that he had leaked a memo from the solicitor general criticising Heseltine.

Next: 8. The Battle of Trafalgar | 31 March 1990

Previous: 6. Thatcher meets Gorbachev | 16 December 1984

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