The hereditary knight who once worked for Robert Maxwell: Why work of Rishi Sunak’s new ethics chief Sir Laurie Magnus may prove controversial | Political News

Rishi Sunak’s new ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, is an old Etonian “quango king”, a City grandee and a pillar of the establishment.

He wasn’t awarded his knighthood in the usual way by the Queen after being nominated by 10 Downing Street. His title to him is hereditary.

He is in fact a baronet, the third in a baronetcy that dates back to 1917, when it was awarded to an ancestor who represented London University in the House of Commons.

Sir Laurie’s appointment as ethics chief comes more than eight weeks after Mr Sunak became prime minister and there have been claims that the PM was struggling to find a candidate.

Remember, the last two holders of the post, veteran Mandarin Sir Alex Allan and former Royal courtier Sir Christopher Geidt, both quit after disagreements with Boris Johnson.

Sir Alex quit in 2020 after finding former home secretary Priti Patel guilty of bullying and then Mr Johnson declared that she had not breached the ministerial code.

Sir Christopher, a former private secretary to the Queen, quit in june this year after conceding Mr Johnson may have broken ministerial rules over party-gate.

So Mr Sunak has turned to a former merchant banker who serves on half a dozen quangos and whose long business career involved links with disgraced retail tycoon Sir Philip Green and the late tycoon Robert Maxwell.

Controversially, in his new role, Sir Laurie won’t have the power to launch his own investigations into allegations or ministerial wrong-doing. He’ll only launch a probe if he’s asked to by the prime minister.

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That was believed to be one of the reasons Sir Christopher quit, but in his letter of appointment to Sir Laurie, Mr Sunak wrote: “I propose to retain the existing terms of reference, as agreed with your predecessor.”

So that means Sir Laurie won’t be able to launch his own inquiry into the conduct of Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy prime minister who’s facing eight bullying allegations, or Suella Braverman, the home secretary, over claims of leaking and ignoring legal advice over asylum, although both deny any wrongdoing.

Sir Laurie’s quango CV includes the chairmanship of Historic England, a former trustee of the conservation charity the Landmark Trust, former chair of the National Trust, membership of the Culture Recovery Fund, a trustee of English Heritage Trust and deputy chair of the All Churches Trust.

As Historic England boss, Sir Laurie entered the row over the tearing down of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, claiming such statues should not be removed but have “counter-memorials” placed alongside them.

Besides his quango roles, Sir Laurie remains a major figure in the City, as a senior adviser at investment banking group Evercore and chairing two FTSE 250 listed investment trusts.

“Laurie Magnus is very much a member of the City’s great and the good,” a senior Square Mile insider reveals. “He was a director of Samuel Montagu, one of the oldest of what we used to call merchant banks, more than 30 years ago. He’s very much a patrician character.

“He was once adviser to Philip Green, back in the days when he used to run a stock market-listed clothing business called Amber Day, which subsequently went bust.

“Samuel Montagu was for many years the leading merchant banking adviser to Robert Maxwell and oversaw the ill-starred stock market flotation of Mirror Group Newspapers back in 1990.

“I don’t think Sir Laurie was responsible for the direct client relationship with Captain Bob, but he would undoubtedly have known him.

“Samuel Montagu had the unenviable task of untangling Mirror Group from the rest of the Maxwell empire prior to the flotation, which would have given them ample insight into knowing what a scoundrel he was.”

Scoundrels in politics? Never. But as he moves now from business and quangos into politics, the next chapter in Sir Laurie’s colorful career may prove far more controversial.


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