Rishi Sunak’s new ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, is a former Etonian “quango king”, a city magnate and a pillar of the establishment.
He was not knighted in the usual way by the Queen after being appointed by 10 Downing Street. His title is hereditary.
He is actually a baronetcy, the third in a baronetcy that dates back to 1917, when it was bestowed upon an ancestor who represented the University of London in the House of Commons.
At Sir Laurie’s appointment as Chief Ethics Officer comes more than eight weeks after Mr Sunak became Prime Minister and there have been allegations that the Prime Minister is 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 resigned after disagreements with Boris Johnson.
Sir Alex resigned in 2020 after convicting former Home Secretary Priti Patel of bullying then Mr Johnson said she had not breached the ministerial code.
Sir Christopher, former private secretary to the Queen, resign in June this year after conceding, Mr Johnson may have breached ministerial rules regarding the party gate.
So Mr Sunak turned to a former investment banker who serves on half a dozen quangos and whose long business career has involved links to disgraced retail tycoon Sir Philip Green and the late tycoon Robert Maxwell.
Controversially, in his new role, Sir Laurie will not have the power to launch his own inquiries into allegations or ministerial wrongdoing. He will only launch an investigation if the Prime Minister asks him to.
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This was thought to be one of the reasons Sir Christopher had stepped down, but in his letter of appointment to Sir Laurie, Mr Sunak wrote: ‘I propose to retain the existing term of office, as agreed with your predecessor.’
This therefore means that Sir Laurie will not be able to launch his own inquiry into the conduct of Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister who faces eight allegations of bullying, or Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary , for allegations of absconding and ignoring legal advice on asylum, though both deny any wrongdoing.
Sir Laurie’s quango CV includes chair of Historic England, a former trustee of the conservation charity Landmark Trust, former chairman of the National Trust, member of the Culture Recovery Fund, trustee of English Heritage Trust and vice-chairman of All Churches . Trust.
As patron of historic England, Sir Laurie has entered the row over the dismantling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, saying such statues should not be removed but have “counter-memorials “placed next to them.
Apart from his quango roles, Sir Laurie remains a major figure in the City, serving as senior adviser to investment banking group Evercore and chairman of two FTSE 250-listed investment trusts.
“Laurie Magnus is truly one of the big and good in town,” a Square Mile insider reveals. “He was a director of Samuel Montagu, one of the oldest in what we called investment banks, more than 30 years ago. He is a very patrician character.
“He was once an adviser to Philip Green, when he ran a publicly traded clothing company called Amber Day, which later went bankrupt.
“Samuel Montagu was Robert Maxwell’s principal investment banking adviser for many years and oversaw the ill-fated IPO of Mirror Group Newspapers in 1990.
“I don’t think Sir Laurie was responsible for the direct customer relationship with Captain Bob, but he would no doubt have known him.
“Samuel Montagu had the unenviable task of disentangling Mirror Group from the rest of the Maxwell empire before flotation, which would have given them enough insight to know just how much of a scoundrel he was.”
Scoundrels in politics? Never. But as he now moves from business and quangos to politics, the next chapter in Sir Laurie’s colorful career could prove far more controversial.