Leadership

The Rt Hon Sir Conor Burns MP, Chairman, Margaret Thatcher Centre

Conor was born in Northern Ireland in 1972 although at a young age his parents moved the family from Belfast to Hertfordshire where Conor grew up. Conor attended St Columba’s College in St Albans, a school run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, and the University of Southampton.

Conor served as a Councillor on Southampton City Council for the inner city St Lukes Ward before being chosen to be Parliamentary candidate for Eastleigh, a seat he fought in the general elections of 2001 and 2005 (losing to Chris Huhne by 558 votes in 2005). In his career in the private sector before entering Parliament, Conor worked as Company Secretary and Head of Business Development for a start up Information Services company as well as roles in the communications and financial services sectors.

Elected to Parliament for Bournemouth West in the general election of 2010, Conor was elected to serve as a member of the Education Select Committee.  However he relinquished this role when he was promoted by the Prime Minister to serve as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Northern Ireland office. Conor resigned from the Government in 2012 in order to vote against the House of Lords Reform Bill.  Following his resignation Conor stood for election to the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee.  He explained that he wanted to join this committee as it covered tourism which is Bournemouth’s second largest employer and to be able to promote Bournemouth’s digital and creative sector as both Bournemouth University and the Arts University Bournemouth are both in his constituency. Conor was returned to Westminster in 2015 with a greatly increased majority.  After the 2015 general election Conor was appointed as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Treasury.  Following Theresa May’s appointment as Prime Minister she asked Conor to serve as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP and then the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP.  On 25th July 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed Conor as Minister of State for International Trade, a post he held until May 2020. Conor was re-elected for the third time in December 2019, with a majority of over 10,000 votes. In August 2021 Conor was appointed Trade envoy to Canada by the Prime Minister and was delighted to be appointed on 16 September as Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office. Conor was appointed by Prime Minister Liz Truss as Minister of State for International Trade in September 2022 and returned to the back benches in October 2022. He was knighted in October 2023 for political and public service and currently serves as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to the United States for Regional Trade and Investment. 

In his spare time Conor goes to the gym and enjoys cooking.  He is also a snooker fan and most years goes to the World Championship final at the Crucible in Sheffield and the Masters in London. He is also a life long watcher of Coronation Street and has visited both the old set and the new set at Salford Quays.

Donal Blaney, Founder, Margaret Thatcher Centre

Educated at Tonbridge School and the University of Southampton, Donal is a former National Chairman of the Conservative Graduates and Conservative Future. He was was a Councillor in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, presented a daily show on Britain’s first internet-based television channel, 18DoughtyStreet, and has written for The MailOnline. 

He is also the founder of Griffin Law. Starting his career in the law in 1996, Donal worked in the City of London and the West End before working in the British Virgin Islands between 2004 and 2006. A pioneering lawyer who prided the firm on lateral thinking, he obtained the world’s first anti-harassment injunction that was served via Twitter in 2009.

Donal has acted as ‘consigliere’ to a number of wealthy business owners and directors, providing cost-effective strategic advice from the unique viewpoint of a litigation specialist. His particular specialisms as a litigator are in respect of complex financial disputes with an international dimension, trust and tax disputes and asset tracing. Donal prides himself, and the firm, on being proactive, innovative, tenacious and commercially-minded. He is the kind of lawyer you want on your side, not against you.

Donal is married to Marci, a US Army veteran who served in Iraq, and divides his time between Kent and Florida. A lifelong fan of Liverpool FC, he is a season ticket holder at Anfield.