Mark Drakeford emotionally steps down as Welsh first minister after 'hardest and saddest' year following wife's death

19 March 2024, 20:07 | Updated: 19 March 2024, 20:09

Mark Drakeford emotionally steps down as Wales first minister after 'hardest and saddest' year following wife's death
Mark Drakeford emotionally steps down as Wales first minister after 'hardest and saddest' year following wife's death. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

Mark Drakeford has emotionally stepped down as Wales First Minister, calling the past year 'the hardest and saddest' of his life following the death of his wife Clare.

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Drakeford, 69, appeared to fight back tears as he thanked the people of Wales during his resignation speech in the Senedd, Cardiff, Tuesday.

He addressed his own personal tragedy he had suffered in early 2023, when his wife of 46 years, Clare, died suddenly aged 71.

Mr Drakeford thanked civil servants and fellow Members of the Senedd - pausing for a series of standing ovations from members across the chamber and in the public gallery.

The outgoing first minister spoke of how he had worked with "four prime ministers, five chancellors of the exchequer, six chancellors of the duchy of Lancaster and I've lost count of the different ministers further down the pecking order" during his time in office.

Wales's First Minister Mark Drakeford and wife Clare arriving at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff
Wales's First Minister Mark Drakeford and wife Clare arriving at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff. Picture: Alamy

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He said: "My aim throughout, as First Minister, has been to use the mandate my party and my Government secured to keep the promises we made to people across Wales.

"That has meant being prepared to do the things that are difficult today because we know that the benefits will lie in the lives of the generations to come."

Emotionally speaking about his wife's death, Mr Drakeford said: "For me personally, the last 12 months have been the hardest and the saddest of my life, and people will not see beyond the chamber those small acts of kindness that happen every day from people in every part of this chamber that help someone to get through those very, very difficult times.

"We debate, vigorously and with the conviction of our own beliefs, but as human beings we are always, I believe, amongst friends, amongst people who understand the demands of the jobs that we do and the small things that make such a difference to you."

He said his greatest thanks went to "the people across Wales."

Mr Drakeford said his most enduring memory of being First Minister was attending an event to remember the Aberfan disaster - the catastrophic collapse of a spoil tip next to the village school in 1966, which led to the death of 116 children and 28 adults.

He had met two teachers who had been at the school where the disaster happened - calling the conversation and "extraordinary moment.

"I really did feel our history, our Welsh history echoing down those years, that sense of solidarity and of suffering, a determination never to forget what has made us what we are today, that sense, as so many people did, on that day in 1966, of a duty of care, not simply to our friends and our neighbours, but to people who we will never know and will never meet, but where deep in the Welsh experience, we understand that their fates are bound up in our fates, and that the future of any one of us is bound up in the future of us all."

Vaughan Gething, at Cardiff University, after being elected as the next Welsh Labour leader and First Minister of Wales
Vaughan Gething, at Cardiff University, after being elected as the next Welsh Labour leader and First Minister of Wales. Picture: Alamy

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Mr Drakeford's opponent in the Senedd, the Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, also grew emotional while thanking the outgoing First Minister.

He praised Mr Drakeford for the "stern leadership in a positive way" he had shown during the Covid pandemic, even if the pair disagreed on policy.

"The leadership that you showed benefited this country in coming through some of its darkest hours," he said.

Mr Drakeford nodded as Mr RT Davies referenced a "heated exchange" between pair, with people telling him the two must "really hate each other".

He said: "Hate is a terrible word. It is a really poisonous, infectious word. That's not hate. That is passion, that is conviction, and that is what politics should be about, and that is what you have brought to the role of First Minister."

He also grew emotional while expressing gratitude for a letter sent by Mr Drakeford while he was ill in 2021.

He said: "That kindness was greatly appreciated and meant a lot to me at the time. "I thank you sincerely for what you've done as First Minister."

Following the statements Mr Drakeford signed a letter to the King, formally resigning as the First Minister of Wales. The King will now confirm the resignation before the Senedd returns on Wednesday.

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