Tesco boss Dave Lewis has admitted that non-executive director Richard Cousins quit the grocer because he disagreed with the Booker deal.

Cousins, who is chief executive of catering group Compass, left the business suddenly at the start of January, just days before Tesco unveiled its latest quarterly update.

His departure was shrouded in mystery at the time, but Lewis today revealed that Cousins stepped down because he “was in a different place” when the board agreed on a proposal to acquire the wholesaler.

Tesco shocked the marketplace this morning when it unveiled details of the £3.7bn deal, which could be completed by the end of this year, subject to regulatory approval.

But asked whether the acquisition prompted Cousins’ abrupt exit, Lewis said: “I have a huge amount of regard for Richard, I enjoyed working with him for two years and he made a great contribution to the Tesco board.

“He was completely supportive of the changes we made to recover our competitiveness and the plan that we shared with the marketplace.

“It’s fair to say that when we talk about what the growth opportunities for the business are, people do have different opinions about that. We had big conversations around that.”

“A different place”

Lewis added: “We got ourselves to a place where the overwhelming majority of the board were very happy with the proposal that we were making.

“Richard was in a different place and I fully, fully, fully respect him for that.

“The quality of debate we had was really good governance and I have the upmost respect for him deciding that he wanted to step away from the board.”

Cousins joined Tesco as a non-exec in October 2014 at the height of its accounting scandal and became senior independent director in April the following year.

He has been replaced as senior independent director by Deanna Oppenheimer.

Tesco chairman John Allan said at the time of Cousins’ departure on January 3: “On behalf of the board, I would like to thank Richard for his strong contributions to the deliberations of the Tesco board over the last two years and particularly for his insights and invaluable advice as we have delivered an unprecedented level of change across the business.

“We wish him well for the future.”