Who is Sir Laurie Magnus, Rishi Sunak’s new ethics adviser?

Sir Laurie Magnus was appointed in December 2022 following 40 years of experience in the financial services sector

Eleanor Noyce
Monday 23 January 2023 17:33 GMT
Rishi Sunak orders investigation into Tory chairman Nadhim Zahawi amid tax dispute penalty

Rishi Sunak‘s ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus will investigate Nadhim Zahawi’s tax settlement after the prime minister said there were “clearly questions that need answering”.

Mr Zahawi is the second MP to be investigated by the newly appointed Whitehall watchdog who was given the job on 22 December 2022.

His appointment came after the position was left vacant for six months following the resignation of Lord Geidt, who quit after a turbulent tenure under Boris Johnson.

But who is Sir Laurie, and what does his role involve?

Who is Sir Laurie Magnus?

Sir Laurie has over 40 years of experience in the financial services sector, holding several advisory and non-executive roles.

He is currently chairman of Historic England and was originally appointed in September 2013 to head up its relaunch. Sir Laurie was also deputy chairman of the National Trust between 2005 and 2013.

Sir Laurie occupied the role of chairman of the Windsor Leadership Trust, an independent charity providing training programmes for senior leaders across all sectors. He was the deputy chairman of the Benefact Trust, providing charitable financial support to churches and Christian charities in the UK and Ireland.

He has served as a member of the Board of the Culture Recovery Fund, an initiative established by the government to provide financial support to the culture and heritage sectors during the Covid pandemic.

Sir Laurie was made a CBE in the 2022 New Year Honours for services to heritage. He was educated at Eton College and the University of Oxford and is the 3rd Baronet of Tangley Hill, a title he inherited following the death of his uncle, Sir Philip Magnus-Allcroft, in 1988.

What does the independent adviser on ministers’ interests do?

A source of impartial advice on the management of ministers’ private interests, the role ensures that MPs adhere to the Ministerial Code. It is a non-renewable five-year appointment.

Its core function is to advise ministers on their private interests, investigate alleged breaches and provide advice on the code and any amendments.

Sir Laurie takes over from Lord Geidt, who resigned from the position under Boris Johnson’s leadership in June 2022. He stepped down over the proposals to break international law on trade policy but was allegedly displeased by Mr Johnson’s role in the No 10 Partygate scandal.

Lord Geidt’s predecessor, Sir Alex Allan, resigned in November 2020 after Boris Johnson refused to sack then-home secretary Priti Patel. A formal investigation confirmed allegations that she had bullied civil servants.

What will Sir Laurie look at?

Sir Laurie’s first investigations as ethics adviser will be into Mr Zahawi’s tax row.

Tory party chairman Mr Zahawi is facing widespread calls to resign following revelations that he paid a penalty to HMRC over unpaid tax whilst he was chancellor.

He remarked that he was “confident” he had “acted properly throughout”, describing a dispute resolved between July and September 2021 involving an approximate total payment amount of £5m.

The tax was related to shares in the polling company YouGov, which Zahawi founded in 2000 before he was elected as an MP.

Upon entering Downing Street, Rishi Sunak did not allow the post of Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests to launch their own investigations into ministers. As a result, Sir Laurie has been unable to initiate his own inquiries into the bullying probe levelled against Justice Secretary and Mr Raab. That inquiry is instead being carried out by an independent investigator, Adam Tolley KC.

Mr Raab has had eight formal allegations of bullying levelled at him. Insisting that he has always “behaved professionally”, he has declined to comment on the bullying inquiry.

Elsewhere, Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been accused of leaking and ignoring legal advice over asylum seekers, another scandal which Sir Laurie is currently unable to probe. She denies the allegations.

With Mr Sunak pledging to put integrity and accountability at the centre of his government upon entering office, it remains to be seen how he will utilise Sir Laurie’s expertise.

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