British Trade Secretary Nicholas Ridley, one of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's closest political allies, resigned Saturday amid a storm of protest over an anti-German diatribe of his that embarrassed the government.
Ridley acknowledged that he saw no choice but to resign following the publication of his remarks in a magazine Thursday, in which he likened Bonn's economic leadership in Europe to domination by Adolf Hitler, criticized the 12-nation European Community and charged that "the French were behaving like poodles to the Germans."The remarks incensed officials in the European Community, West Germany and France. Although Ridley quickly acknowledged his error, the controversy snowballed into widespread calls by British politicians that he resign.
Officials were concerned the incident would damage Britain's relations with the EC and West Germany, its largest trade partner.
"In view of the controversy aroused by the publication of an article in The Spectator this week, I think that now is the time for me to leave your government," Ridley said in a six-paragraph letter to Thatcher.
The government, in a move to defuse the crisis, quickly announced that it would replace Ridley with Peter Lilley, 46, a financial secretary at the Treasury Department. The Cambridge-educated Lilley is known to be a strong backer of the EC, political observers said.
In his resignation letter, Ridley sought to clarify his views on Germany and the EC and said he resented the magazine's assertion that he associates present-day Germany with the aggression of the past, saying, "I do not hold that view."
He said he decided to step down in part because of his announced decision in recent weeks that he would not run for re-election to Parliament.
Although Thatcher attempted to disassociate herself and her government from Ridley's views, political analysts have said they reflect the prime minister's opposition to giving the Brussels-based EC greater powers.
She has also expressed concern about Germany, which she once called a "European superstate."