Cabinet minister Alun Cairns has quit following reports he had prior knowledge of a collapsed rape trial, despite saying he was unaware of the details.
The Welsh secretary today wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign from government and vowed to “co-operate in full” with an investigation under the ministerial code.
“I am confident I will be cleared of any breach or wrongdoing,” Mr Cairns said.
He revealed he was quitting the cabinet “in light of continued speculation” over “a very sensitive matter”.
Mr Cairns’ resignation represents a significant blow to the Conservatives on the first official day of the general election campaign, ahead of the 12 December poll.
Sky News understands the 49-year-old still plans to stand as an election candidate in his Vale of Glamorgan constituency.
He had been facing calls to resign from opposition parties following claims he knew his former aide made an attempt to “sabotage” a rape trial.
Mr Cairns claimed he had been unaware of Ross England’s role in the trial’s collapse until the story broke last week.
But BBC Wales claimed an email, sent to Mr Cairns by another aide on 2 August last year, said: “I have spoken to Ross and he is confident no action will be taken by the court.”
Mr England, a Conservative Welsh Assembly candidate, was not the defendant in the trial but had been giving evidence.
Prior to Mr Cairns’ resignation, Labour’s shadow Welsh secretary Christina Rees said: “There are no two ways about this – Alun Cairns has been caught brazenly lying about how much he knew of Ross England’s appalling behaviour at a rape trial.
“We have previously been asked to believe that Alun Cairns – who describes Mr England as a ‘friend and colleague’ – had no knowledge of the behaviour that led to the collapse of a rape trial – and unimaginable trauma for the victim.
“We now know this was a fiction.”
Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts said: “Not only did Mr Cairns know about Mr England’s role in the case, but he also blatantly told an untruth when he claimed last week he only knew of it once the story had broken last week.
“At worst, Mr Cairns is complicit in the attempted cover up of his former staff member’s actions which collapsed a rape trial.
“At best, he has displayed gross incompetence in judgement, dishonesty and a lack of leadership.”
In response to Mr Cairns’ letter, the prime minister replied: “I am pleased to hear that you will cooperate fully with the Cabinet Office during this process.
He added: “You can be proud of your record of delivery for the people of Wales, in particular in ensuring the abolition of tolls on the Severn bridges.
“This follows an unstinting record of service to the party in Wales.”
Mr Cairns was an early backer of Mr Johnson in this summer’s Conservative leadership contest.