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Wales’ First Minister: What happens next?

Vaughan Gething has been named the leader of the Welsh Labour party

THIS WEEK will see Mark Drakeford formally step down, with his successor as Wales’ new first minister set to be appointed and a cabinet reshuffle on the horizon.

Following Vaughan Gething’s victory in the Welsh Labour leadership contest, here’s what you can expect as the formal resignation and nomination process gets under way.

Mark Drakeford announced he would be stepping down on 13 December, exactly five years to the day since he was appointed Wales’ first minister in 2018.

He will take his final first minister’s questions on Tuesday, 19 March from 1.30pm.

The outgoing First Minister will be quizzed about his record in office, with questions tabled on the 20mph limit, disused mines and Wales’ place in the world.

Mr Drakeford will then formally tender his resignation to King Charles III.

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He is scheduled to give a 30-minute resignation statement in the Senedd at about 3.45pm, with party leaders and MSs expected to take this opportunity to pay tribute.

On Wednesday March 20, the Welsh Government will inform Elin Jones, the Senedd’s speaker or Llywydd, as soon as the Palace confirms the resignation has been accepted.

Ms Jones will then make a written statement to notify the Senedd that this has been received, which marks the point at which Mark Drakeford has formally resigned.

Nominations for the next First Minister will then take place in the Senedd’s chamber or Siambr during the afternoon’s plenary session.

Exact timings are to be confirmed on Wednesday morning but it will either be the first item on the agenda at 1.30pm or after climate change and health questions at nearer 3pm.

If only Vaughan Gething is nominated, he will be declared the First Minister-elect.

But if more than one nomination is made, every Senedd member – except Ms Jones and her deputy, David Rees – will vote by roll call with the nominee requiring a simple majority.

The Llywydd will recommend the Welsh Parliament’s nominee to the King and the First Minister-elect will address the Senedd.

The First Minister will be appointed by Royal Warrant, a legal document authorised by the King, before being sworn in at the Welsh Government’s Cathays Park headquarters.

Mr Drakeford was the only nominee after the 2021 election but when he was first appointed in 2018, Plaid Cymru and the Tories put forward their leaders as a symbolic gesture.

However, after the 2016 election, the vote for First Minister between Carwyn Jones and Leanne Wood was tied until the deadlock was broken a week later.

The current parliamentary arithmetic means a tied vote is a possibility but it remains unlikely as it would require agreement between the Tories, Plaid Cymru and Lib Dems.

Vaughan Gething is expected to reshuffle the cabinet in the first week of the Senedd’s Easter recess, which begins on Monday, March 25.

Ministers remain in post in the interim but the counsel general, the Welsh Government’s chief legal adviser, will cease to hold office when the First Minister is appointed.

While Mr Gething will want to put his own stamp on the government, most of the Labour group backed his opponent, Jeremy Miles, so he will need to build some bridges.

Mr Miles, who is education minister, is likely to be offered a ministerial post as a result.

However, a handful of MSs could leave the frontbenches, with Lee Waters already having confirmed he is set to leave his post as deputy minister for transport.

Eluned Morgan and Rebecca Evans, Wales’ health and finance ministers respectively, both backed Mr Gething for leader and will likely stay in the cabinet.

Lynne Neagle and Dawn Bowden, deputy ministers for mental health and culture respectively, also supported his leadership bid and could be promoted.

Jayne Bryant and Ken Skates, who ran Mr Gething’s campaign, could be set for new roles.

Mr Skates stood down as economy minister in 2021 after eight years in government to spend more time in his Clwyd South constituency.

Alyn and Deeside MS Jack Sargeant, and Cynon Valley MS Vikki Howells, could be among the fresh faces in the running – as could Caerphilly MS Hefin David.

The new First Minister can appoint a temporary counsel general with Mick Antoniw, the incumbent, seen as the frontrunner. 

Uniquely, this role can be filled by a non-Senedd member but Theodore Huckle, a barrister, was the first, and so far only, independent professional counsel general from 2011 to 2016.

In the days following the Welsh Government reshuffle, the Conservatives are expected to rearrange their own frontbench team in the Senedd.

Wales’ new First Minister will take their first FMQs following the Easter recess on April 16.

That week is likely to see changes to Senedd committee memberships and a motion to formally recommend a new counsel general to the King.

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