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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.

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!)

The UK is not alone in feeling the effects of the Russia-Ukraine crisis which compounded an already tight energy market, in which the post-Covid economic recovery caused demand to outstrip supply. But the UK does appear to have been perhaps more heavily affected by this combination of factors, which has led to a steep rise in energy costs. With an average UK family’s energy bill increasing by 54% so far this year and inflation nudging the double-digit mark, the ONS declared earlier this month that the squeeze on living standards was the worst since the 1950s.

The EU has belatedly realized the dangers of its over-reliance on Russian hydrocarbons and is urgently seeking to source gas and oil supply elsewhere. In the short to medium term, this will force global gas prices higher as the EU competes on global gas markets for a constrained resource. In the longer term, countries view the war in Ukraine as a clear indication that reliable, clean, domestically-produced renewable energy bolsters national security by removing dependence on volatile international hydrocarbon markets. The PM’s comments in the foreword – “We need a power supply that’s made in Britain, for Britain” – underline how that sentiment also applies in the UK, whilst at the same time hint, perhaps worryingly, at a less globalized future energy market.

It is against this backdrop that on 7 April, almost unnoticed, the UK Government published its long-awaited Energy Security Strategy (ESS). The ESS was supplemented by the announcement in this week’s Queen Speech of the proposal for an Energy Security Bill, building on last year’s COP26 Summit in Glasgow and designed to deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner, and more secure energy in the UK.

UK Energy Security Strategy

Immediate Support on Energy Bills

The ESS sets out a new Energy Bills Support Scheme that will see a £200 reduction in energy bills from October 2022, to be offset against a Government levy on domestic energy bills over 5 years from FY23. To mitigate the high cost of industrial electricity, the Government will extend the Energy Intensive Industries Compensation Scheme for a further three years, and increase the intensity of the aid to up to 100 per cent, representing 1.5 per cent of Gross Value Added. It will also consider increasing the renewable obligation exemption to 100 per cent. These measures will enable businesses to apply for greater relief for part of their electricity costs. The Government has since announced that the total level of compensation under the Scheme will increase from roughly £130 million to up to £280 million.

Energy Efficiency

Building on existing efforts to promote the energy efficiency of UK homes, the Government will make the installation of energy-saving materials zero-rated for VAT purposes for the next five years. A new £450 million Boiler Upgrade Scheme will facilitate the uptake of heat pumps, alongside a Heat Pump Investment Accelerator Competition being run in 2022, worth up to £30 million. Later this year, the Government will aim to publish proposals incentivising electrification, which aims to ensure that heat pumps are comparatively cheap to run. The Government will increase innovation funding for the development and piloting of new green finance products for consumers from £10 million to £20 million. Early 2023 will see a formal consultation on new minimum standards and labelling requirements for a range of energy-using products.

Oil and Gas

The ESS sets out the Government’s vision for the North Sea, noting that in order to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels, the UK must fully utilise North Sea reserves; use empty caverns for CO2 storage; and encourage the use of hydrogen as a natural gas alternative, alongside using North Sea offshore expertise to support the offshore wind sector. The ESS argues that there is no contradiction between the UK’s net zero commitment and its commitment to a strong and evolving North Sea industry, but rather that one depends on the other.
Continue Reading The UK’s New Energy Security Strategy

Responding to Covid 19 has left many countries’ foreign exchange reserves dangerously low, with countries whose economies relied on tourism particularly badly affected.  The economic rebound as the Western world’s highly-vaccinated populations emerged from lockdowns and began spending, caused supply chain tightness, sparking the beginnings of an inflationary spike.  The Russia-Ukraine crisis has exacerbates that

On Thursday 10 March, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry launched a public consultation regarding the terms of reference that will establish the parameters for the Inquiry’s forthcoming work.   The consultation will conclude on Thursday 7 April.

The draft terms of reference set out two key objectives for the Inquiry: (1) examining the Covid-19 response and the

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry, which has been established to examine and learn lessons regarding the UK’s preparedness and response to the Covid-19 pandemic, launched its website on Monday 28 February.

According to the website, two experienced individuals have been appointed as Solicitor to the Inquiry and Counsel to the Inquiry, both of whom have been

PM Boris Johnson is under political pressure over a number of issues, including the UK’s response to Covid and the potential for the NHS to become overwhelmed; the looming cost of living crisis (a combination of tax rises, inflation and rising energy costs); and disquiet over allegations of sleaze and corruption that have recently bedeviled

The Background

In 1998, the UK and The Republic of Ireland signed the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) bringing to an end 30 years of conflict in N Ireland.  The GFA was possible at least in part because both the UK and Ireland were Member States of the EU, meaning there were no external borders to the EU or the UK in Ireland and enabling EU Law to provide a legal framework.

The GFA, strongly supported by the US and the EU, relied at its core, on mutual acceptance – S Ireland and Irish Nationalists accepted that N. Ireland was part of the UK and the UK agreed to remove physical security infrastructure on the N/S Ireland Border.

The issue of borders is at once problematic and emblematic, with the Unionist community feeling strongly that N. Ireland is part of the UK and the Nationalist community objecting to a N/S Ireland border as a physical barrier to their long-terms hopes of Irish reunification. The GFA accordingly struck a careful crafted and very delicate balance between the two communities.

Brexit…

Brexit upset that delicate balance.  The Nationalist community largely voted Remain, whilst the Unionist community largely voted Leave.  N. Ireland overall voted to remain in the EU.  The UK’s departure from the EU meant that the N/S Ireland border became not only the border between Ireland and the UK, but the only land border between the mainland UK and the EU.

To preserve the benefits of the GFA whilst protecting the EU’s Single Market, the UK and the EU agreed the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP), which preserved the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland and left N. Ireland in the UK’s Customs Union, but the EU’s Single Market – effectively placing the UK/EU border for Customs Controls in the N Sea between GB and N. Ireland for goods ‘at risk’ of entering the EU via N. Ireland. This arrangement avoided a ‘hard border’ between N and S Ireland and meant that N. Ireland was the only part of the UK to benefit from being in both Unions at the same time.

What has happened since January 2020?

The immediate consequences both of Brexit itself and the NIP are an increase in trade between N. and S. Ireland and a reduction in trade between Ireland and the UK as EU produce (inbound and outbound) has increasingly been dispatched by sea direct from S. Ireland to the European Mainland, by-passing the UK which had been used as a land-bridge for Irish exports whilst the UK was in the EU.

These two changes have raised concerns amongst the Unionist community that the longer-term impact of Brexit and of the NIP is to increase the chances of a United Ireland (the GFA allowed for the possibility of a Border Poll should communities so wish). This concern, added to the number of checks on GB/N Ireland exports, has led to a deterioration in security in N Ireland.  It is against this complicated backdrop that the EU and the UK are seeking to tweak the NIP to facilitate trade between GB and N. Ireland and reduce the number of customs checks carried out on that border.

Article 16….

Buried in the midst of the NIP is the now infamous Article 16 which states at paragraph 1 “If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade… [one side]… may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures”.  Paragraph 2 notes “If a safeguard measure taken…. in accordance with paragraph 1 creates an imbalance between the rights and obligations under this Protocol, the [other side] may take such proportionate rebalancing measures as are strictly necessary to remedy the imbalance.”

UK Complaints

The UK is concerned that the application of the NIP has imposed significant new customs formalities on GB-N. Ireland exporters, resulting in extra costs and discouraging trade.  Under the NIP, after a series of grace periods, the UK was supposed to gradually bring in checks on a broadening range of goods and products exported from GB to N. Ireland.  However, as the impact of those checks became clear, the UK took the decision to unilaterally suspend them.

Of particular concern to the UK government are:
Continue Reading The EU, The UK and The Northern Ireland Protocol (again!)

I.  Introduction: the Scottish Government’s Draft Hydrogen Action Plan

On the 10th of November 2021, the Scottish Government published its Draft Hydrogen Action Plan (the “Plan”), as a companion document to its December 2020 Hydrogen Policy Statement.

The Plan sets out the Scottish Government’s detailed proposals for the Hydrogen industry in Scotland