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Thomas Reilly

Ambassador Thomas Reilly, Covington’s Head of UK Public Policy and a key member of the firm’s Global Problem Solving Group and Brexit Task Force, draws on over 20 years of diplomatic and commercial roles to advise clients on their strategic business objectives.

Ambassador Reilly was most recently British Ambassador to Morocco between 2017 and 2020, and prior to this, the Senior Advisor on International Government Relations & Regulatory Affairs and Head of Government Relations at Royal Dutch Shell between 2012 and 2017. His former roles with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office included British Ambassador Morocco & Mauritania (2017-2018), Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Egypt (2010-2012), Deputy Head of the Climate Change & Energy Department (2007-2009), and Deputy Head of the Counter Terrorism Department (2005-2007). He has lived or worked in a number of countries including Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Argentina.

At Covington, Ambassador Reilly works closely with our global team of lawyers and investigators as well as over 100 former diplomats and senior government officials, with significant depth of experience in dealing with the types of complex problems that involve both legal and governmental institutions.

Ambassador Reilly started his career as a solicitor specialising in EU and commercial law but no longer practices as a solicitor.

The second round of France’s snap parliamentary elections delivered a surprising result on Sunday: with 182 seats, the coalition of left-wing parties—the Nouveau Front populaire (“NFP”) emerged as the unexpected victor. Centrist parties supporting President Emmanuel Macron finished second with 168 seats altogether, whereas the far-right Rassemblement National (“RN”) and its allies—which in the first round had seemed to be within striking distance of an outright victory—secured only 143 seats, thwarting its hopes of being able to form the next government. With 289 seats needed for any single party to reach a majority in the lower house and form a government, President Macron’s decision to call early legislative elections has delivered an outcome that threatens gridlock in the EU’s second-largest economy.

There seems to be limited scope out of this deadlock: either a government formed of a grand coalition spanning from the centre right to the centre left, but excluding both the extremes (the RN on the far right and La France insoumise, “LFI”, on the far left); or to the formation of a caretaker, technocratic government until a political situation is found. Either way, the negotiations to form the next government threaten to be lengthy and torturous and the French Constitution prevents new parliamentary elections being held within the next 12 months. This situation will have profound implications not only for France but also for decision-making in the EU.

Background Context

In 2017, Emmanuel Macron’s unexpected yet victorious bid in the presidential elections had reshuffled the cards of the French political landscape, with traditional governing parties marginalised by a powerful central force, which vowed to overcome old cleavages. Surfing on a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections following his own election, the President’s first mandate (2017-2022) was marked by a willingness to boost France’s economic attractiveness: a labour reform, a single 30% tax rate on capital gains, the abolition of a wealth tax, and the reduction of corporate taxes have all contributed to curbing unemployment levels.

The French President’s approach to power, sometimes seen as vertical, was perceived to have prevented flagship reforms from being passed. In late 2018, the Yellow Vest movement provoked a political crisis and a year later, President Macron withdrew a pensions reform bill due to a prolonged national strike movement. The Covid-19 outbreak heralded further complications, with France’s unmatched fiscal measures to buffer the impact of the crisis leading to deteriorated public finances: the government deficit rose to 8.9% of GDP, while public debt rose by almost 20 percentage points, to 114.6% of GDP in 2020.

President Macron’s re-election in 2022 against Marine Le Pen, albeit by a smaller margin than in 2017, confirmed his strong ability to mobilise his electoral base. Yet, he was able to muster only a limited majority in the National Assembly. This was notwithstanding the alignment of presidential and parliamentary mandates (in a 2000 revision of the Constitution) that until now had mechanically enabled the President to obtain an absolute majority in the Parliament (called the “fait majoritaire”).Continue Reading France drifts towards uncertainty after snap elections

As the energy transition gathers pace, the need for access to the essential raw materials which underpin it, is also accelerating:

  • An electric car needs six times more rare earth minerals than a conventional vehicle;
  • An onshore wind plant needs nine times more materials than a comparable gas facility;
  • Between 2017 and 2022, the energy sector drove a tripling of global demand for lithium, whilst demand for cobalt and nickel rose by 70% and 40%[1] respectively;
  • Between three to 6.5 billion tonnes of transitional minerals will be needed over the next three decades if the world is to meet its climate goals[2].

The current and future global demand for transitional metals and minerals offers a potentially huge economic opportunity[3]. This is particularly the case for Africa, where more than 50% of the world’s cobalt and manganese, 92% of its platinum and significant quantities of lithium and copper are to be found. Almost all of the continent’s current output is presently shipped as ore for processing in third countries, meaning the potential economic benefit of this enormous mineral wealth has not filtered through to the real economics in its African source countries[4].  Africa exports roughly 75% of its crude oil, which is refined elsewhere and re-imported as (more expensive) petroleum products; and exports 45% of its natural gas, whilst 600 million Africans have no access to electricity (approximately 53% of the continent’s population)[5].

A number of African governments have expressed their determination to avoid repeating the ‘resource curse’ mistakes of the past, by using the continent’s natural resources to drive domestic economic growth, while creating meaningful domestic job opportunities, rather than exporting them and the consequent economic growth elsewhere.  This approach has led a number of African countries to impose export restrictions on raw minerals; promote domestic processing; and demand that agreements with third countries promote technology transfers and improve domestic processing capacities and workforce skills.

Sustainable use of transition minerals

A resolution to promote equitable benefit-sharing from extraction was recently presented at the UN environmental assembly in Nairobi calling for the sustainable use of transitional minerals[6].  The Resolution, which was supported by a group of mainly African countries including the DRC, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Chad, was described as being ‘crucial for African countries, the environment and the future of [African nations’] populations.”

A number of African countries have already taken steps to protect their natural resources and move up the processing value chain[7].Continue Reading African Raw Material Export Bans: Protectionism or Self-Determination?

In early March, the EU released its first-ever European Defence Industrial Strategy (EDIS), accompanied by a proposed regulation establishing the European Defence Industry Programme (EDIP). The aim is to boost defence capabilities in Europe through greater and more efficient spending. In particular, the strategy seeks to reverse recent trends, whereby 78% of defence acquisitions by EU countries since Russia’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine were made with non-EU producers, with U.S. firms accounting for 63%. It also addresses recent concerns by the defence industry over ESG constraints on obtaining private financing.

The ultimate benchmark for success, as recounted by one EU foreign minister, is whether these measures will help deter Russia and other adversaries. Nonetheless, it reflects greater operational focus of the EU on defence and security issues, and what in practice the European Commission and other EU institutions can do to bolster capabilities in a policy area that will remain the primary prerogative of EU Member States.

Plugging Defence Gaps

Since the end of the Cold War, European defence has suffered from perennial underinvestment and lack of policy support for the defence industry. Whereas Europe collectively spent on defence over half of the U.S. totals in the early 1990s, it now spends about one-third compared to the United States—arguably at a time of much greater security threats to Europe compared to America. There are simply not enough soldiers, tanks, planes, ships, missiles, guns, and ammunition in Europe, nor domestic facilities to produce the necessary weapons systems and materiel. Moreover, EU countries have procured defence products at a national level, exacerbating fragmentation within the European market. This fragmentation has led to the creation of national industrial silos and numerous defence systems that often lack interoperability.Continue Reading Mobilizing Greater Defence Capabilities in Europe: the EU’s Defence Industrial Strategy

Our December blog, examined the optimism at the end of last year that a way could be found out of the political deadlock that has paralysed the Northern Ireland Assembly for the last two years. As our blog noted, although those hopes did not materialize, the fact that the discussions had reached such an advanced stage suggested that a solution might be found in the New Year.  The announcement by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on 30 January that a Deal had been reached seems to justify that optimism.

A Historical Recap

The 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement (GFA) brought an end to 30 years of ‘The Troubles’.  It struck a delicate balance between the competing interests of the Unionist and Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland.  Key to its success was the removal of border infrastructure between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the creation of a Power Sharing Executive (PSE) for Northern Ireland.  The PSE allocates the position of First Minister to the largest political party in Northern Ireland, and the position of Deputy First Minister to the second largest.  Other than the status implied by the titles, there is very little practical difference between the two roles.

Northern Ireland’s parliament, the Stormont Assembly, only actually sat for any extended period of time between 2007-2017, but, until the last set of elections, the DUP had always held the position of First Minister.

Brexit and Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland voted by 56:44 to remain in the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum.  The Unionist community largely voted ‘Leave’, believing it would consolidate Northern Ireland’s position within the UK; the Nationalist community generally voted ‘Remain’ for the opposite reason. Continue Reading The DUP and The Deal: Power-Sharing Returns to N Ireland

In previous blogs, we have written about the EU-China relationship and how the EU was increasingly focused on delivering its policy of Strategic Autonomy. We are beginning to see the concrete implementation of this strategic intent, with the EU Commission approving a €902 million German State aid measure to support the construction of an electric vehicle battery production plant.  As Margrethe Vestager, EVP for Competition Policy noted, this is the first individual aid to have been approved under the Temporary Crisis and Transition Framework since March 2023 and its approval will keep the battery plant in the EU, rather than it moving to the US.

And the EU is planning to take further measures to enhance and protect its economic security in pursuit of the goal of strategic autonomy. On December 10, the Commission unveiled its Agenda outlining for items to be addressed in early 2024. Of note is the European Economic Security Package (EESP), due for discussion on 24 January.

It had been planned to adopt the EESP by the end of 2023.  However, its adoption faced delays due to Member States’ concerns about ceding authority to Brussels in an area traditionally reserved for national competence. For its part, the Commission argues that a “Europeanization” of the EU trade rules was required to ensure consistency across the bloc following decisions by various Member States to issue their own trade measures (for example, on export controls).

Although full details of the EESP have not yet been released, key components of the EESP will include a revision of the Foreign Direct Investment Screening Regulation and an initiative regulating outbound investments. The Agenda for 24 January also includes a non-binding Communication restricting export of dual-use items.Continue Reading The European Economic Security Package

Over the last few weeks, hopes have been rising that a way could be found out of the political deadlock that has paralysed the N Ireland Assembly over the last two years. Those hopes were cruelly dashed on 18 December, but the fact that the discussions had reached such an advanced stage gives hope that a solution may be closer and reachable in the New Year.

A Historical Recap

The Belfast Good Friday Agreement (GFA) of 1998 brought to an end 30 years of ‘The Troubles’ through a delicate piece of negotiation which carefully balanced the competing goals and interests of the Unionist and Nationalist communities in N Ireland.  A key element of the Agreement was the removal of all border infrastructure between N and S Ireland (which for the Nationalist community was a very visible reminder of the division of the Island of Ireland).  Another crucial ingredient was the creation of a Power Sharing Executive (PSE) for N Ireland. Under this part of the Agreement, the largest Political Party in Northern Ireland would hold the position of First Minister, with the second largest holding the position of Deputy First Minister.  The Agreement ensured that in practice, there was very little difference (other than status) between the two roles.

For 24 years, the largest political party in N Ireland was the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who accordingly held the position of First Minister, with Sinn Fein holding the position of Deputy First Minister.

Brexit and N Ireland

In the 2016 referendum, N Ireland voted by 56:44 to remain in the EU, with the Unionist community broadly supporting Leave on the basis it would solidify N Ireland’s position within the UK.  The UK left the Customs Union and the Single Market as part of the Brexit deal with the EU.  In theory, that should have pulled N Ireland out of both entities as well, re-creating border infrastructure between N and S Ireland. Brexit (requiring a border) collided with the reality of the GFA (abolishing the border), creating a circle which was impossible to square. In the end, the UK government placed the border between the UK and the EU in the Irish Sea, effectively cutting the N Ireland economy off from the rest of the UK and enabling companies to trade more easily with the Republic of Ireland than with GB.Continue Reading Brexit and N Ireland

What You Need to Know.

  • After two days of intense negotiations, world leaders adopted a draft decision that sets out international climate priorities in response to the findings of the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement.  The decision covers several thematic areas, including mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation and resilience in the face of climate change, financing and means of implementation and support for climate projects, and loss and damage funding for climate-vulnerable nations.  The text of the draft decision can be found on the UNFCCC’s website here.
  • The most highly scrutinized and heavily debated aspect of the agreement was the path forward on the use of fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions from which, the decision notes, have “unequivocally caused global warming of about 1.1 °C.”  Recognizing the need for deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5 °C pathways, the decision calls on Parties to contribute to the following efforts related to the energy transition and fossil fuel use:
    • Tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030;
    • Accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power;
    • Accelerating efforts globally towards net zero emission energy systems, utilizing zero- and low-carbon fuels well before or by around mid-century;
    • Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science;”
    • Accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies, including, inter alia, renewables, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilization and storage, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors, and low-carbon hydrogen production;
    • Accelerating and substantially reducing non-carbon-dioxide emissions globally, including in particular methane emissions by 2030;
    • Accelerating the reduction of emissions from road transport on a range of pathways, including through development of infrastructure and rapid deployment of zero and low-emission vehicles; and
    • Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible;
  • While coal has been mentioned in previous COP decisions, the language on “transitioning away from fossil fuels” represents the first time that countries have agreed to language that explicitly curtails all fossil fuels in the nearly three-decades-long history of the UN climate summit.  Though hailed by COP28 President Al Jaber and other world leaders as a “historic package to accelerate climate action,” the decision, and how it was adopted, was not without its critics.
    • UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell pushed the world to strive for more action.  “COP 28 also needed to signal a hard stop to humanity’s core climate problem—fossil fuels and their planet-burning pollution.  Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end.”
    • Anne Rasmussen, lead delegate for Samoa, complained that delegates of the small island nation nations weren’t even in the room when President Al Jaber announced the deal was done.  Garnering the longest applause of the session, Rasmussen declared that “the course correction that is needed has not been secured” and that the deal could “potentially take us backward rather than forward.”

Continue Reading COP28 Final Negotiations Recap: A Global Agreement to Transition Away from Fossil Fuels

 What You Need to Know.

  • Azerbaijan is poised to host COP29 next year after receiving regional backing.  If formally confirmed, Azerbaijan’s COP Presidency would resolve months of deadlock.  It will also trigger criticism that next year’s COP will again be hosted by a nation heavily dependent on fossil fuel exports.
  • Brazil has been formally chosen to host COP30 in 2025.  The venue will be the city of Belém, located in the Amazon rainforest.  As Brazil’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Marina Silva, commented: “With its immense biodiversity and vast territory threatened by climate change, the Amazon will show us the way.”
  • The UNFCCC has released a revised draft text of the negotiated outcome of the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement.  The revised draft no longer mentions the “phase out” of fossil fuels and instead mentions the “substitution of unabated fossil fuels” and “tripling renewable energy capacity . . . by 2030.”
  • The inclusion of “phase out” language in the final agreement has been one of the yardsticks by which commentators have suggested the success or failure of COP28 should be measured.  Accordingly, the new draft was met by significant criticism, including by the European Union’s representatives who called elements of the text “unacceptable.”  Negotiations now center on finding a compromise, almost guaranteeing that discussions at COP28 will continue beyond the official close of the conference on Tuesday, December 12.
  • Following the official theme of the day, 154 nations signed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action.  The Declaration commits to “expedite the integration of agriculture and food systems into our climate action” and to “scaling-up adaptation and resilience activities and responses in order to reduce the vulnerability of all farmers, fisherfolk, and other food producers to the impacts of climate change.”  The contributions of the agriculture and forestry sectors, both as a source of emissions and as carbon sinks, are continuing to gain attention as an important part of the global efforts on climate change.

Continue Reading COP28 Day 10 Recap: Food in Focus, and a Look Ahead to COP29 and COP30

What You Need to Know. 

  • After a year of preparation and months of anticipation, the twenty-eighth annual United Nations Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) opened in Dubai on November 30, 2023.  Live and recorded coverage of the plenary sessions can be found on the UNFCCC COP28 website.
  • UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell opened the conference with a powerful call to action and reminder of what is at stake at COP28.  “Remember this.  Behind every line you work on.  Every word or comma you wrestle with here at COP.  There is a human being, a family, a community, that depends on you.  Turn the badge around your necks into a badge of honour, and a life belt for the millions of people you are working for.  Accelerate climate action.  Teach it to run.”
  • With a standing ovation from attendees, delegates approved the operationalization of a fund to assist developing countries in responding to economic and non-economic loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.  COP28 President Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber praised the approval of the loss and damage fund—the first time a decision has been adopted on the first day of any COP—as setting “a clear ambition for [delegates] to agree [to] a comprehensive, ambitious GST [Global Stocktake] decision over the next twelve days.”
  • The fund will initially be hosted by the World Bank for an interim period of four years, at which time an independent assessment of the World Bank’s performance as a host will be conducted.  World leaders must now nominate and appoint a board to operationalize the fund.  The UNFCCC also must formulate and post a final decision reflecting today’s approval.
  • Funding commitments for the loss and damage fund are mounting, with contributing countries facing a mix of peer pressure and political constraints.  National contribution pledges to date include: UAE ($100 million); UK ($51 million); US ($17.5 million); Japan ($10 million); European Union ($245 million, including $100 million pledged by Germany).

Continue Reading COP28 Day 1 Recap: A Call for Action and Historic Decision on Loss and Damage Funding