THE leader of Newport City Council has explained why she pulled out of the race to be Welsh Labour's new deputy leader.

Welsh Labour is due to elect its first-ever deputy leader at its spring conference in April. Under rules agreed last year, the deputy leader must be a woman as long as the party leader - currently Carwyn Jones - is a man.

Although Newport City Council leader Cllr Debbie Wilcox, the first woman ever to lead the organisation, said last month she would stand for the role, last week she announced she had pulled out from the race and would instead back Cardiff North AM Julie Morgan.

Ms Wilcox, who had led the council since May 2016 and was made leader of the Welsh Local Government Association in June last year, said she had decided to pull out of the running as she had not been able to secure the 12 nominations needed to be officially nominated.

"I had plenty of support from Assembly colleagues including (Newport West AM) Jayne Bryant and (Newport East AM) John Griffiths but I couldn't get any MP nominations after the one I had switched support to Julie Morgan," she said.

"No hard feelings as I knew exactly what the rules were when entering the contest. I'll leave it to others to discuss the ins and outs of it.

"Suffice to say I feel I've moved the goal posts for local government to be treated equally in future even if I didn't manage to score a goal this time."

Mrs Morgan, who represented Cardiff North in Parliament from 1997 until 2010 and was elected to the Assembly in 2011, and is also the widow of former first minister Rhodri Morgan, has welcomed Ms Wilcox's support.

“Debbie is a long-time colleague and friend and I know she was a fantastic candidate," she said.

"She has decided not to stand this time and offered to back me.

"Her support means a lot to me.

"I'm very sorry that she has withdrawn and I thank her for her support.”

Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris is also understood to be running for the role.

Official nominations opened last week and will close at midday on Friday, February 16. Voting will close on Wednesday, April 18, with the winner chosen under an electoral college system, through which party members have a third of the vote, AMs, MPs and MEP Derek Vaughan have another third. The remaining third is allocated to associated organisations such as trade unions.

Although some party members, including some senior AMs and MPs, had backed using a one-member-one-vote system, which was used to elect Jeremy Corbyn, to elect the deputy leader, this was rejected by the party's executive last year.