Mark Drakeford quits as Wales’ first minister

Beyond England Policy & Politics

Mark Drakeford has announced he is stepping down as the first minister of Wales and leader of the Welsh Labour party, sparking a leadership contest to replace him.

In a surprise statement posted on social media, Drakeford said he will remain in place as party leader and first minister until his successor is elected in the spring.

It is exactly five years and a day since Drakeford, 69, became first minister of the Senedd and in his statement he said: “When I stood for election as Leader of Welsh Labour, I said I would stand down during the current Senedd term. That time has now come.”

Drakeford’s unexpected announcement arrives just a week before his government unveils its spending plans for next year, which ministers have already warned will be “extremely difficult”. The Labour government in Wales is under increasing pressure with cuts made across all departments to bolster the country’s faltering NHS and rail service.

At a hastily convened press conference in the Welsh parliament, Drakeford said that he “today formally notified the chair of the Welsh executive committee of my intention to stand down as leader of Welsh Labour in March 2024.”

He continued: “Nominations for my successor as Welsh Labour leader will open shortly. The process will be concluded by the end of the spring term, to enable the name of the winner to be put to the Senedd before the Easter recess. In the meantime, I remain your first minister.”

Reflecting on his five years as leader and first minister, Drakeford said Wales has had to “deal with austerity, Brexit, the Covid pandemic, the climate crisis, wars in Ukraine and the Middle East and four different prime ministers – so far”.

He added: “The next Welsh Labour leader and first minister will, I hope, have the opportunity, which has not come my way, to work with a newly elected Labour government in London. I will work as hard as I can to see that Labour government elected.”

Drakeford was first elected to the Senedd in 2011, as member for Cardiff West. He replaced Carwyn Jones as first minister eight years later and rose to national prominence during the pandemic.

He was a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and promised to follow “radical socialist traditions” in the tradition of Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot on his appointment as first minister.

Paying tribute, national party leader Sir Keir Starmer called Drakeford “a true titan of Welsh and Labour politics” and added: “It has been a pleasure to work alongside him and we all wish him the very best for his retirement.”

The early favourites to succeed Drakeford are economy minister Vaughan Gething and the education minister Jeremy Miles.

Miles called Drakeford “an extraordinary man who has led Wales through extraordinary times.

“He has been a beacon for compassion in our politics, and an example of public service to our nation.

“As we consider what comes next, I hope we will resolve to build on Mark’s legacy, to meet new challenges head on, and to set our sights on an ambitious future for Wales.”

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