Boris Johnson has fired the starting gun on the Tories’ election campaign, as his bid to return to No 10 was rocked by the resignation of one of his senior ministers.
Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns announced he was standing down over his links to a Conservative candidate accused of sabotaging a rape trial.
He is thought to be the first Cabinet minister in modern times to have quit during the course of a general election campaign.
It came at the end of a chaotic 24 hours for the Tories, which saw the Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg forced to apologise for insensitive comments about the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.
The party also faced criticism for a campaign video featuring a “doctored” interview with shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer.
Mr Johnson himself came under fire after likening Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to Stalin, over the Soviet leader’s persecution of Russian landowners in the 1930s.
The Prime Minister was forced to delay his final speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street before hitting the campaign trail, because of Mr Cairns’ resignation.
The Welsh Secretary said he was standing down “in light of continued speculation” about allegations relating to the “actions of a party employee and candidate for the Welsh Assembly elections in the Vale of Glamorgan”.
He had claimed he was unaware of the role played by his former staff member, Ross England, in the collapse of a rape trial, until after the story broke last week.
However, he was accused of “brazenly lying” after BBC Wales said it had obtained a leaked email which showed he had been made aware of the allegations as early as August last year.
Mr Cairns said he would “co-operate in full” with an investigation into his actions under the Ministerial Code, adding that he was confident he would be cleared of “any breach or wrong doing”.
Earlier, the Prime Minister travelled the short distance from Downing Street to Buckingham Palace for a final audience with the Queen, even though Parliament had already been dissolved.
Speaking outside No 10, Mr Johnson acknowledged that there was little public appetite for an election in the run-up to Christmas.
But he said that Parliament’s refusal to deliver Brexit – which had left him wanting to “chew my own tie” in frustration – meant that he had no choice but to go to the country.
“We’ve got to the stage where we have no choice because our parliament is paralysed, it’s been stuck in a rut for three and a half years,” he said.
“And I’m afraid our MPs are just refusing, time and again, to deliver Brexit and honour the mandate of the people.
“I can tell you, I’ve got to the stage where I’ve been wanting to chew my own tie in frustration because, in a sense, we’re so nearly there.”
Mr Johnson said that if he was returned to Downing Street on December 12 with a “sensible majority government”, they would “get Brexit done” in January, releasing a “flood of pent-up investment”.
“Hundreds of billions are waiting to pour into the UK and we can inject a surge of confidence into our system,” he said.
Meanwhile Mr Corbyn, speaking in his home town Telford, said he would be a “very different” prime minister if Labour won the election.
“I was not born to rule. None of us in this room were born to rule.
“I don’t pursue the kind of politics that thinks it’s all a game, a parlour game, a debating society game,” he said.
“I want to seek power for our party in order to share that power out all across the country, and with all those communities that would have contributed to this historic Labour election victory, which we’re looking forward to on December 12.”