Jonathan Powell

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Person.png Jonathan Powell  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Jonathan Powell.jpg
Jonathan Powell appointed by David Cameron as Britain's special envoy to Libya in April 2014
Born14 August 1956
Alma materUniversity College (Oxford), University of Pennsylvania
SpouseSarah Helm
Member ofBritish-American Project, Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Macro Advisory Partners/Board

Employment.png Downing Street Chief of Staff Wikipedia-icon.png

In office
2 May 1997 - 27 June 2007
Succeeded byTom Scholar

Jonathan Nicholas Powell is a former British diplomat who, having served as the first Downing Street Chief of Staff under Prime Minister Tony Blair, was the only senior adviser to last the whole period of Blair’s leadership (1995 to 2007).[1] During this period, Jonathan Powell was the chief British negotiator on Northern Ireland and also worked behind the scenes as Tony Blair arranged for the West's economic reconciliation with Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

In December 2007, the BBC announced that Jonathan Powell was to take up a full-time position as a senior managing director of Morgan Stanley's investment banking division.[2] In January 2008, the Financial Times reported that Tony Blair would become a £2 million-a-year adviser to the global financial services firm JPMorgan Chase.[3]

In April 2014, PM David Cameron appointed Jonathan Powell to be Britain's special envoy to Libya at a time when the north African country is engulfed by fighting between unofficial militias, the army and the government. Powell's appointment was not made public until 22 May 2014 in an apparent attempt to avoid raising expectations about how much it was likely to achieve.[4] The Foreign Office confirmed that Jonathan Powell had already held a first exploratory meeting with Libya's prime minister and different groups in Tripoli.[5]


Jonathan Powell is the son of Air Vice-Marshal John Frederick Powell. He has three brothers: Charles, a foreign policy advisor to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, attendee of Le Cercle who is on the payroll of several weapons manufacturers; Chris, a former advertiser; and Roderick. Although Jonathan Powell pronounces the family name in the conventional manner (to rhyme with 'towel'), Charles pronounces it as 'pole'. Powell was educated at the Cathedral Choir School, Canterbury, and The King's School, Canterbury, and studied history at University College (Oxford)[6] and the University of Pennsylvania.


Jonathan Powell worked for the BBC and Granada Television before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1979.[7] He was posted as Third Secretary, later Second Secretary, to Lisbon in 1981. He was subsequently posted to UKDEL CDE Stockholm in 1986 and to UKDEL CSCE Vienna in September 1986.[8] Jonathan Powell was desk officer for the negotiations on giving Hong Kong back to the Chinese in 1983-5, and for the two plus four talks on German unification from 1989-90. Powell was posted to the British Embassy in Washington in 1991 and attached himself to Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign as an observer. He later introduced Tony Blair to Bill Clinton and his team after the election.[9]

Downing Street Chief of Staff

Shortly after his election as Leader of the Labour Party, Tony Blair asked Powell to become his Chief of Staff. Powell initially declined the offer, although he later left the diplomatic service in 1995 to become the Chief of Staff to the Opposition Leader. After Labour's election victory in 1997, Powell was given the new official role of Downing Street Chief of Staff, a new position with the power to issue orders to civil servants, which was unprecedented for a political appointee.

In the early years of the Blair Government, one of Powell's most crucial jobs was his role in the Northern Ireland peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement. In March 2008, Powell called for tactics used successfully in Northern Ireland to be applied to the War on Terrorism. He suggested that western governments hold talks with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, just as the British government negotiated with the Provisional IRA in order to bring about a peace deal in Northern Ireland. His suggestion was publicly rejected by the British Foreign Office. [10] His book Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland details the negotiations which finally led to the agreement which brought back power-sharing devolved government to Northern Ireland.

Jonathan Powell continued to be both a key right-hand man for Tony Blair throughout his time in office, as well as a trusted advisor on a wide range of policy issues. He was described by The Guardian as being "at the heart of all his (Blair's) key foreign policy initiatives."[11] It is believed he was questioned twice by police, the second time under caution, during the investigation into the Cash for Honours affair.[12] While many in Blair's "kitchen cabinet" – including Alastair Campbell – departed before Blair's resignation, Jonathan Powell remained in Downing Street until June 2007.

In February 2012 Peter Oborne, a Telegraph journalist, criticised Powell for divulging sensitive information about the activities of MI6 in Russia. He told a BBC documentary, Putin, Russia and the West, how MI6 had in 2006 used a "fake rock filled with surveillance devices as a means of communication with their agents in Moscow". Oborne described this as a "propaganda gift for Vladimir Putin", as it soon after featured heavily in a programme screened on prime-time Russian state TV. The footage was used to attack opponents of Putin who at the time, in 2006, had doubted Kremlin reports of MI6's activity in Russia. In the view of Oborne, "Powell’s indiscretion was used to make a full-frontal attack on some of the most respected independent critics of the regime" and Powell had become a "useful idiot" for Putin.[13]

Post Downing Street

Jonathan Powell joined Morgan Stanley as a full-time senior managing director of its investment banking division from 2008-9. In November 2010, he wrote an article for The Guardian that was critical of the publication by WikiLeaks of the contents of US diplomatic cables. Powell argued:

"It is very difficult to conduct diplomacy effectively when your confidential deliberations are made public in this way. Mutual trust is the basis of such relations and once that trust is breached, candid conversations are less likely. It is like having a conversation in the pub with your best mate about problems with your girlfriend and then finding the content, possibly with a bit of spin added, posted on the internet. You won't be having that conversation again any time soon."[14]

In 2011 he established the charity Inter Mediate[15] to work on armed conflicts around the world. He is also a member of the Board of Save the Children International.

Judicial Inquiries

Jonathan Powell's role as Downing Street Chief of Staff came under close scrutiny during the Hutton Inquiry, held following the death of Dr David Kelly in 2003. Powell gave evidence to the inquiry on 18 August, and described several crucial meetings he had attended at which Dr Kelly had been discussed before his name appeared in the media. An email sent by Powell to the JIC chairman John Scarlett in September 2002 was also highlighted, as it appeared to suggest that a dossier on the threat posed by Iraq should be toughened.[16] Many commentators criticised the style of government described by Powell as too informal, some dubbing it "sofa government", as many meetings were held in relaxed surroundings without proper notes being taken. The subsequent and separate Butler Report also emphasised these criticisms. Both the Hutton and Butler reports indicated Powell was very close to Blair.

On 18 January 2010, Powell gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry, also known as the Chilcot Inquiry after its chairman Sir John Chilcot.[17] On 2 June 2014, Tony Blair avoided answering questions about the still unpublished Chilcot Inquiry report.[18]

Personal life

Jonathan Powell has four children: two daughters with his partner, Sarah Helm, and two sons from a previous marriage.[7]

Books by Powell

  • Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland, The Bodley Head, 2008. ISBN 1-84792-032-2.
  • The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World, The Bodley Head, 2010. ISBN 1-84792-122-1.



  1. {{URL||optional display text}}
  2. "Former Blair aide joins top bank"
  3. David Wighton, "Blair takes advisory position at JP Morgan", Financial Times, January 9 2008.
  4. "David Cameron appoints former Blair aide as special envoy to Libya"
  5. "David Cameron appoints Jonathan Powell as official envoy to Libya"
  6. Univ alumni, Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  7. a b {{URL||optional display text}}
  8. The Diplomatic Service List 1989 (page 278), HMSO, ISBN 0-11-591707-1.
  9. Powell, Jonathan, [1], United Against Nuclear Iran
  10. {{URL||optional display text}}
  11. {{URL||optional display text}}
  12. {{URL||optional display text}}
  13. The BBC’s distortion of the truth helps Putin suppress his critics, Telegraph, retrieved 2/2/2012
  14. Powell, Jonathan, US embassy cables: Leaks happen. But on this industrial scale, whose interests are served?, The Guardian, 30 November 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  15. {{URL||optional display text}}
  16. {{URL||optional display text}}
  17. {{URL||optional display text}}
  18. "Video: Tony Blair ducks questions on Chilcot Inquiry"

External links

  • [2] Profile on BBC site
  • 'One at a Time', review of Great Hatred, Little Room in the Oxonian Review
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