Photo of Thomas Reilly

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.

COP27 began in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, yesterday. It begins inauspiciously, set against the global impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting food and energy insecurity and dramatic price rises which have pushed climate change down domestic political agendas across the world and increased demand for new sources of fossil fuel to reduce reliance on Russian gas.  By the same token, the Russian aggression creates a lever that presents COP27 with a rare, perhaps unique, opportunity to accelerate the energy transition. 

Furthermore, since the effects of climate change are non-discriminatory, the need to tackle it is a genuine global need: a visionary take on COP 27 is that it could offer a ‘safe haven’ for international dialogue and collaboration where world leaders can find effective pathways forward on food, energy, nature and security. However, the augurs are not positive…

Billed as the ‘Implementation COP’ it was designed to require countries to improve their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to reducing climate-change inducing emissions. However, the tussle over the agenda, which began at 1300 on Saturday and did not conclude until midday on Sunday, suggests that the alternative name for this COP – ‘The African COP’ – is more appropriate and that the focus and key to its success lies elsewhere.

Why Does COP27 Matter?

COP27 marks 30 years since the adoption of the UNFCCC[i] and seven years since the 2015 Paris Agreement of COP21[ii], which was the first legally-binding global treaty on climate change. It was the Paris Agreement that introduced NDCs which require countries to set out by how much they will reduce their national emissions each year, with a target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century.  The Paris Agreement also imposed a requirement to improve ability to adapt and build resilience to climate change; and to align finance flows with ‘a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development’.Continue Reading What to Expect from COP 27

On 6 October 2022, the Council of the European Union adopted a Regulation on an emergency intervention to address high energy prices (the “Regulation”).  The Regulation was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 7 October. The Regulation has three main elements:

  1. A requirement to reduce electricity consumption by 5% in peak hours;
  2. A measure to return the excess revenues or profits of energy companies to the individual Member States; and
  3. The allocation of proceeds to customers to alleviate retail electricity prices and an extension to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) of the categories of beneficiaries of a possible Member State intervention in the retail price.

The Regulation’s market intervention is exceptional (albeit in response to an extraordinary geopolitical market disruption).  It will have widespread positive and negative impacts for energy market sellers and buyers.  These circumstances may provoke a range of disputes, transaction (re)structurings or additional compliance obligations that will require expert advice and understanding of the details of the Regulation.

Reduction in electricity consumption

EU Member States will endeavour to reach an overall 10% reduction in electricity consumption by all consumers.  The benchmark against which that reduction will be measured is the average of gross electricity consumption in the corresponding months of the reference period, i.e. from 1 November to 31 March in the five preceding years, starting from 2017.  In addition, in order to reduce retail prices and improve supply security, Member States are obliged to deliver a 5% reduction of electricity consumption during peak hours, (defined as the hours of the day where day-ahead wholesale electricity prices are expected to be the highest; gross electricity consumption is expected to be the highest; or gross consumption of electricity generated from sources other than renewable sources is expected to be the highest).  These measures will apply from 1 December 2022 until 31 March 2023.Continue Reading EU Emergency Action on Energy

On 6 September 2022, Liz Truss was appointed prime minister of the United Kingdom. With her appointment, Government business will resume after the inevitable hiatus caused by the Conservative Party’s internal election process.

PM Truss has been busy – making her first speech (in which she set out her priorities); taking her first set of Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons; and appointing her Cabinet and junior Ministers as well as the support staff in her own Office. These actions provide the first reliable indicators of her strategic vision for the country – and of her capacity to deliver it.

Truss’s first speech was aspirational but short on strategic vision for her government. The speech did set out a statement of intent in focusing on boosting economic growth, tackling the energy crisis and investing in the National Health Service, but there was no plan for how these goals will be delivered.

However, Truss’ Cabinet appointments perhaps provide a much clearer guide as to the nature and intentions of her government. She has surrounded herself with Ministers and Senior Advisors who share a common intellectual framework and ideology. Almost all are alumni of think-tanks and policy groups that are on the right-wing of the Conservative Party: the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute for Economic Affairs, and the Taxpayers’ Alliance. All espouse reducing the size of the state, increasing competition, enabling free markets, and reducing taxation.Continue Reading The Truss Government – What Inferences Can We Draw?

This year the impact of climate change has been more visible than ever before. Temperatures in the UK reached an unheard-of 40+ degrees C; rivers in Germany and China have run dry, creating problems for transport and hydro-electric power creation; one-third of Pakistan is under flood-water. This feeling of crisis has been compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequent ever-rising gas prices.  These factors have combined to focus international political and public attention on the urgency of the energy transition. 

The success of the energy transition will depend on access to significantly increased quantities of rare earth metals and minerals, which are central to the production of permanent magnets used in electric vehicles (EVs) and wind turbines. According to the IEA, meeting current energy policies will require a doubling of current levels of mineral extraction and refining by 2040.  Reaching the Paris target of 1.5 degrees C will require a quadrupling by 2040.  Attaining Net Zero by 2050 requires a six-fold increase by 2040.

Can this be done?

Proven reserves of rare earth elements (REE) are assessed to be sufficient (just) to meet the needs of the energy transition. The question is therefore whether a solution can be found to the inefficiency of their extraction and use; and whether mining and processing activities across the value and supply chains can be expanded quickly enough to meet this projected growth.Continue Reading Elemental Risk: the Threat to Electric Vehicles

Gazprom reduces supplies again

Gazprom’s 27 July decision to reduce the gas it supplies through Nord Stream 1 to 33 mcm means it is now delivering just one-fifth of the pipeline’s capacity. This reduction ensures Europe will continue paying (ever higher prices) for (just enough) Russian gas in order to service its day-to-day needs, whilst leaving insufficient extra to fill storage units before the winter (in late June, the Commission mandated that EU gas storage facilities should be 80% full by 1 November).  The Gazprom reductions come against the backdrop of a historically hot summer, where consumer demand, including for air conditioning, is significantly higher than normal[i].

Ironically, given the IPPC report and COP27 at the end of the year, the major beneficiary of the Russian gas supply crunch appears to be coal: the IEA forecasts a 7% rise in global coal consumption to reach the all-time record set in 2013, with electricity demand for coal likely to increase by as much as 16%.Continue Reading Europe’s Gas Crisis

The UK government has reported a successful start to the implementation of the National Security and Investment Act 2021 (the “NSIA” or “Act”). During the first three months (Jan-March 2022) in which the new NSIA regime has been active, the Investment Screening Unit (“ISU”) received 222 filings and reviewed 17 transactions in depth. Of those 17 transactions, three have been cleared unconditionally, with the other 14 transactions still under review at the end of the reporting period.

Mandatory NSIA filings, which represented 196 of the total flings, were most commonly made in six sectors: defence, military and dual-use, critical suppliers to government, artificial intelligence, data infrastructure and advanced materials.  There were significantly fewer filings in other sectors, with fewer than five filings per sector in areas such as synthetic biology, civil nuclear, advanced robotics and transport.

Collectively, these figures and other data suggest that the NSIA regime is operating, so far, broadly in line with expectations. While there are fewer filings than expected overall, this may reflect a broader global slowdown in M&A and investment activity. The ISU further reports that it is meeting, and often working well within, the maximum statutory time periods for the assessment of filings. The ISU indicates its willingness to complete reviews expeditiously where possible, including for in-depth assessments.Continue Reading UK National Security and Investment Regime Working Well

The UK government has reported a successful start to the implementation of the National Security and Investment Act 2021 (the “NSIA” or “Act”). During the first three months (Jan-March 2022) in which the new NSIA regime has been active, the Investment Screening Unit (“ISU”) received 222 filings and reviewed 17 transactions in depth. Of those 17 transactions, three have been cleared unconditionally, with the other 14 transactions still under review at the end of the reporting period.

Mandatory NSIA filings, which represented 196 of the total flings, were most commonly made in six sectors: defence, military and dual-use, critical suppliers to government, artificial intelligence, data infrastructure and advanced materials.  There were significantly fewer filings in other sectors, with fewer than five filings per sector in areas such as synthetic biology, civil nuclear, advanced robotics and transport.

Collectively, these figures and other data suggest that the NSIA regime is operating, so far, broadly in line with expectations. While there are fewer filings than expected overall, this may reflect a broader global slowdown in M&A and investment activity. The ISU further reports that it is meeting, and often working well within, the maximum statutory time periods for the assessment of filings. The ISU indicates its willingness to complete reviews expeditiously where possible, including for in-depth assessments.Continue Reading UK National Security and Investment Regime Working Well

On Monday 13 June, the UK Government tabled a Northern Ireland Protocol Bill (The NIP Bill) giving it the power to dis-apply parts of the N Ireland Protocol (NIP), an integral part of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).  The EU’s response was immediate: unfreezing the 2021 legal action commenced in response to the UK’s unilateral decision not to apply checks to incoming goods from GB to N Ireland.  In the months to come, the UK may face a second legal action by the EU in respect of The NIP Bill.  Without resolution, this issue could ultimately undo the TCA, igniting a trade war between the EU and the UK.

On 14 June, the first UK Government flight taking asylum seekers and refugees from the UK to Rwanda was prevented from taking off by a last minute intervention by an ECHR Judge.   This intervention triggered a backlash among right-wing politicians and commentators, who began to call for the UK to withdraw from the Convention itself – a suggestion which was not discounted by the PM when he was asked about it later.  It will take several months for the courts to decide whether the policy is legal: during that time, the Government appears to have accepted that no more flights to Rwanda can depart, leaving its flagship immigration policy equally grounded.

But the question of membership of the ECHR matters not only for the important principle of international protection of human rights, but because the ECHR is one of the pillars on which the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) rests.  The GFA brought an end to 30 years of The Troubles, and imposed an obligation on the UK to incorporate the Convention into the law of N Ireland to make it directly enforceable in N Ireland’s courts. The UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act did this.  Leaving the ECHR, therefore, to force through the Rwanda asylum policy, would breach the GFA, which the UK Government argues The NIP Bill is intended to defend. 

How did we get here?Continue Reading Northern Ireland Protocol and the ECHR

Like many governments around the world, UK politics currently appear somewhat unstable. And the UK’s problems are a reflection of the world, where established views and beliefs are suddenly no longer the unassailable certainties they have seemed to be for decades.

Davos met this week for the first time in two years against this very unsettled backdrop.  A few thoughts and reflections on discussions there follow…

Conversation seemed to centre around emerging trends which challenge the apparent established order of the postwar years. Liberalised economies, increasing globalisation and spreading democracy have been remarkably successful at lifting many millions of people out of poverty and providing them access to electricity, clean water, food and economic opportunity.

Yet now the acceptance of the universality of that approach appears to be under challenge and the world economy teeters on the edge of a downturn…Continue Reading A few thoughts from Davos…

Northern Ireland’s 30 years of ‘Troubles’ were brought to an end by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (the GFA). The GFA was based on the principle of cross-community support from both nationalists and unionists: a delicate compromise which sought a middle path between the Unionists – who see N Ireland as an integral part of the UK – and the Nationalists – who view the future of N Ireland as lying in reunification with the Republic.

The success of the GFA was underpinned by the fact that both the UK and the Republic of Ireland were in the EU.  Whilst both countries were members of the EU, there was no need for a border between N Ireland the Republic – goods and services could flow unimpeded across the border.  Leaving the EU required a bespoke solution to N Ireland – one that respected the GFA and did not reimpose a physical border between N Ireland and the Republic: a visible manifestation of a divided island.

Squaring the circle of respecting the GFA, whilst taking the UK as a whole out of the EU, was always the most complicated part of Brexit. With the UK outside the EU, a customs border would be required somewhere: it could not be between N Ireland and the Republic, because of the need to respect the GFA and avoid antagonizing the Nationalist community. The only place that border could be therefore, was in the Irish Sea between N Ireland and the rest of GB – which risked irritating the Unionist community.

The Northern Ireland Protocol

The solution to this delicate balancing act was the Northern Ireland Protocol (the NIP), which left N Ireland in the EU Single Market, but brought it out of the Customs Union, enabling N Ireland to have the best of both worlds, with one foot in the UK and the other in the EU.  However, the NIP imposed checks on goods (especially food and medicine) from GB arriving into N Ireland, to ensure they complied with EU standards and avoid the risk of them leaking into the EU Single Market through the back door: these checks have so far been unilaterally postponed by the UK.

Elections add to the complexity…Continue Reading The UK and the Northern Ireland Protocol (again!)