MARK Drakeford has announced his intention to stand down as First Minister in March 2024.

At a hastily arranged press conference at the Senedd this morning, Wednesday, December 13, the Welsh Labour leader said nominations to be his successor would shortly open.

“When I stood for the leadership, I said that, if elected, I would serve for five years. Exactly five years have passed since I was confirmed as First Minister in 2018,” he said.

The selection process will be concluded by the end of the spring term, Mr Drakeford said, allowing the successful candidate’s name to be put to the Senedd before Easter recess.

He said his five-year tenure as First Minister brought many points for reflection as he steered Wales through austerity, Brexit and relations with four UK Prime Ministers.

The Senedd member for Cardiff West will also be remembered as the person who led the Welsh Government’s response to the Covid pandemic and introduced the 20mph default speed limit on restricted roads.

These major responsibilities and influential decisions have arguably made him Wales’ best-known political figure in recent memory.

Mr Drakeford has paid tribute to the “consistent support and enormous hard work” of his Welsh Labour colleagues, saying he hoped the next First Minister would have the chance to work with a Labour Government in London.

He concluded: “It is time to look forward to the next five years across the UK and to the next 25 years of devolution in Wales.

“That journey begins today.”

Reaction to Mark Drakeford’s resignation

The First Minister’s announcement has drawn a response from figures across the political spectrum, both in Wales and beyond.

Jayne Bryant MS for Newport West said: “Mark has led with compassion, empathy and integrity through some of our most challenging times.

“He is a giant of our Welsh Labour movement and dedicated to public service. Diolch o galon.”

John Griffiths MS for Newport East said he was proud to support Mr Drakeford’s leadership campaign in 2018, saying he had been an “outstanding” leader of party and government.

“I am proud of the work Mark has done to champion social justice and he has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged in our society,” Mr Griffiths said.

“During his leadership, he championed a radical reform agenda to improve the lives of people across Wales. He has also led our nation through some of the most challenging times, including Brexit, COVID, and the Tory cost-of-living crisis.

“He has been a good friend to Newport East and our local Constituency Labour Party for many years. Diolch Mark for everything you have done and achieved.”

Hefin David, Welsh Labour MS for Caerphilly, said: “I will always be grateful to Mark Drakeford for his leadership during the pandemic, the greatest crisis of my lifetime.

“He endeavoured throughout to do the right thing for the people of Wales. Mark listened to the community of Caerphilly and did all he could to keep us safe.

“I was able to have regular meetings with him and to feed back views I picked up via Facebook Live sessions during lockdown.

“He always acted on concerns that people raised. His dignity in leadership was vital at that time. Diolch First Minister.”

Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said he “wishes Mark well as he steps down from the helm”.

“While we may have had different visions for Wales, I know I’m joined by colleagues in holding a huge amount of respect for his dedication to the job of First Minister.”

Mr Davies said it was important there was “no distraction” from the delivery of government while Welsh Labour figures “jockey” to be Mr Drakeford’s successor.

Jane Dodds, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said: “Whether you disagree or not with the First Minister and his government’s decisions, it would be untrue to say that Mark has lacked any passion for his job.

“Throughout his time in office, he was provided consistent and clear leadership that has steered this country through some difficult times and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude.

“On a personal level, Mark has shown nothing but kindness and support to me throughout my time in the Senedd and for that I will forever be grateful."

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said his party had been able to "build a constructive relationship" with Mr Drakeford's and deliver progressive policies through the Co-operation Agreement.

“The First Minister told me in the Senedd yesterday that the question of his successor was “nothing to do” with me," the Plaid Cymru leader said. "But who can become First Minister through an internal Labour party election matters to all of us."

Words from Westminster

Ruth Jones, MP for Newport West, took to social media to say: “Diolch yn fawr for your leadership and integrity Mark,” finishing the message with a Welsh flag and rose emoji, a reference to the Welsh Labour emblem.

Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East, said there had been “fulsome tributes” to the First Minister reflecting his “long years of dedicated public service, strong leadership in difficult times and everything he achieved for Wales in his characteristically quiet and modest way”.

“An enormous thank you also to the team supporting Mark and his leadership. They work tireless and do an amazing job behind the scenes.

“Diolch o galon i ti, Mark.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, MP for Torfaen, said: “On a personal level, I know how difficult the past year has been for Mark with the loss of his beloved wife Clare; yet, dealing with grief, he continued to show his characteristic, steely determination to continue to deliver for people.

“I wish Mark well for the future, and look forward to campaigning with him to return a UK Labour Government at the next General Election that the country so desperately needs.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the First Minister was a “kind and decent man who lives his Labour values”.

“He’s a true titan of Welsh and Labour politics. It has been a pleasure to work alongside him and we all wish him the very best for his retirement,” he said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also wished his Cardiff Bay counterpart “all the best" after a long career in public service, reiterating that the UK Government would continue to work closely with Wales.