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First Minister thanks the people of Wales in emotional resignation speech

The Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford thanked the people of Wales in an emotional resignation speech.

The outgoing leader of the Welsh Labour government had to fight back tears as he gave his final speech in the Welsh Parliament on Tuesday.

Mr Drakeford offered his thanks to civil servants, fellow Members of the Senedd and to the people of Wales.

His speech saw a series of standing ovations from members across the chamber and in the public gallery.

Addressing the Senedd, he 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.

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.”

He was emotional as he spoke about the personal tragedy he had suffered in early 2023, when his wife of 46 years, Clare, died suddenly aged 71.

He 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.

At the event, he met two teachers who had been at the school where the disaster happened.

He said: “In that moment, that extraordinary moment, as I was speaking directly to them, 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.”

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

Mr RT Davies 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.

Mark Drakeford’s final FMQ’s
Outgoing First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford preparing for his final First Minster’s Questions (FMQ’s) at the Senedd in Cardiff (Welsh Government/PA)

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.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth, leader of Plaid Cymru also praised Mr Drakeford, saying: “I’ve been fortunate also to get to know the First Minister through, at times, difficult, but always constructive, co-operation too.

“In that time I’ve seen for myself what I am absolutely sure we all have come to appreciate, that he has been, without doubt, a dedicated public servant, a serious First Minister for serious times.

“The world when he took over was very different, and no doubt his direction of travel was derailed somewhat by the Covid pandemic.”

He added that while he was concerned the lessons from Covid have “not been learnt fully” he believed that “in those tough days, even when there were decisions that we can question, Mark guided Wales with empathy, concern and kindness”.

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.