In March 2015, barely a few weeks after leaving his post as Chief of MI6, Sir John Sawers became a consultant to Qatar Holdings, the primary corporate vehicle for investing in overseas assets by the Qatar government. According to two former MI6 officers, Sawers was not hired for his commercial expertise but for his diplomatic and intelligence contacts and inside knowledge of the government. He joins another former MI6 Chief, Sir John Scarlett, on the Qatar payroll.

The appointment of Sawers reveals that the revolving door of public officials being hired by private companies and foreign governments after they leave office remains pervasive. But it also highlights the foreign policy ambitions of the Qatar regime, fuelled by billions of dollars from their natural gas reserves.

Sawers and Scarlett are the only former MI6 Chiefs to cash in after leaving the UK intelligence agency. Sawers has set up his private consultancy company, JS Office Ltd, and is also a partner and chairman of Macro Advisory Partners. He is also a non-executive director of BP.

The Qatar appointment is controversial because on 20 October 2014, just weeks before leaving MI6, Sawers had a private meeting with the Emir of Qatar in London and had extensive dealings with the regime while he was MI6 Chief. For example, he made an official visit to Qatar on October 9, 2012, to meet the Emir. It is not known if Sawers consulted the Cabinet Office to apply for permission to take on such a lucrative lobbying job, but our sources say it is unlikely that he did so. They believe that Sawers has been lobbying the Foreign Office on behalf of Qatar and in tandem Scarlett.

Sawers is also an advisor at Rusi Royal United Services Institute for Defence & Security which has an office in Qatar. He regularly gives semi-private speeches as a partner of Macro Advisory Partners (MAP). In 2015 he participated at an exclusive dinner at the five-star Gleneagles estate in Scotland and addressed a “top-tier” audience of fund managers on the first evening of a high-profile conference sponsored by hedge funds and investment banks.  Sawers is familiar with an audience of this kind, having delivered a keynote speech at a prestigious hedge fund summit in Paris in April


Sawers began his career with MI6 in 1977, serving in Yemen and Syria. He then left MI6, joined the Foreign Office, and rose rapidly. He served in South Africa, the EU, and Washington DC until 1998. Between 2001 and 2003 he was a special envoy in Baghdad and for three months after the invasion of Iraq. He served as the Foreign Office political director at the height of the Iraq conflict from 2003–2007. He then became the UK’s permanent representative to the UN in 2007, where he played a central role in the key resolutions on Iran, North Korea, and the Middle East.
In November 2009, Sawers became the first MI6 chief appointed from outside the service since Sir John Rennie in 1968. Prior to his appointment as MI6 Chief, Mockbul Ali, an Islamic Issues Adviser to the Foreign Office, argued in 2005 that Qaradawi’s (Qatar-based spiritual leader of the international Muslim Brotherhood) visit to the UK might be useful ‘given his influence in relation to our foreign policy objectives’. Ali quoted Sawers, then the Political Director of the Foreign Office, as having “having individuals like Qaradawi on our side should be our aim.”


  • On July 25, 2012: Sawers said that Iran is “two years away” from becoming a “nuclear weapons state.” In a rare public speech, Sawers told a meeting of 100 senior civil servants in London that British agents had foiled Iran’s attempts to produce a nuclear weapon as long as four years ago. “You’d have Iran as a nuclear weapons state in 2008 rather than still being two years away in 2012,” he said. “When Iran does finally acquire nuclear status, the intelligence chief warned that Israel and the United States “would face huge dangers. I think it will be very tough for any prime minister of Israel or president of the United States to accept a nuclear-armed Iran,”
  • September 23, 2014: Sawers held the West responsible for the creation of the ISIL, and said the UK and the US should find a way to work with Iran to tackle the strife in Iraq and Syria. “The UK and US should find a way to work with Iran in tackling the strife in Iraq and Syria,”, he said
  • Dec 17, 2015: Sawers cleared the Muslim Brotherhood of any links with political violence in Egypt, and in particular an attack on a tourist bus in Sinai. This is revealing because of the well-documented claims that Qatar has been funding the Muslim Brotherhood for many years.
  • Feb 17, 2015: Sawers discussed his experiences of tense diplomatic negotiations in Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. But partial intervention in Libya and Syria has created ‘growing chaos, exploited by fanatics’ he said. Any diplomatic progress in these failed states, he said, has fragmented under the impact of extreme Islamic fundamentalists, making negotiations virtually impossible. He stressed that Muslims are the biggest victims of Islamic terrorism. ‘It isn’t for us to solve this problem within the Islamic tradition. It is for Muslim countries to step forward and lead , he said. ‘Meanwhile, we do what we can to keep the terrorist threat at bay. It can’t be defeated in the usual sense.’
  • Speaking at King’s College, in February 2015, Sawers suggested that Britain should consider putting troops on the ground in Libya, in the wake of the beheading of in the wake of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by Isil. Discussing Britain’s intervention in affairs in the Middle East, he said: ‘In the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan Britain is pulling back from international intervention, just as America pulled back after the Vietnam war. Yes, intervening has huge risks and costs. Not intervening also has huge risks and costs. Afghanistan and Iraq’

Sawers’ world view can be gleaned by his comment during his lecture entitled ‘The Limits of Security’ during the 2015 War Studies Annual Lecture when he praised Dr Henry Kissinger as his idol: “there is no one I learned more from”.

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