British ambassador’s weird manners could cost Britain lives as hundreds of expats in Marrakesh claim they have been abandoned before an imminent terrorist attack. But it could also cost a billion pounds in lost arms deals after Reilly’s Gibraltar gaffe and “insult” to Moroccan king.
British expats in Marrakesh are asking that the UK ambassador there resigns as soon as possible, accusing him of leaving them high and dry in the face of a new terror attack – and even blocking their own evacuation exercises, Strategic Culture Foundation can reveal.
Angry British residences in Marrakesh believe that the Foreign Office is already cutting short its ambassador’s term because of his offhand manners, outbursts and twitter addiction which not only has left 300 Brits in Marrakesh without any support in case of terror attack, but has also created a crisis with Gibraltar.
The Britain’s Foreign Office in London deny this and claims he has not being moved on.
Either way, the early departure of the controversial ambassador Thomas Reilly also threatens 100s of millions of pounds of potential arms deals which Downing Street was hoping to secure in 2020 – which have been left hanging on a thread, following the visit to Rabat of two ministers last year and one just last week who practically begged the Moroccan government to increase its trade with the UK in a twitter video ahead of a recent London conference, which left the UK with not one penny of new business in Morocco.
Thomas Reilly was in the news last year for being eccentric, following a tweet which revealed that he talked to his SOCKS and even imagined they had feelings and were jealous of one another.
But now he’s in the news for his whacky behaviour and anger management issues which have resulted in his term being concluded in August, according to Brits living in Morocco who don’t believe the Foreign Office line.
What is not disputed is that Mr Reilly is facing a wave of accusations from British expats in Morocco who accuse him of having outdated views of British diplomats and how they should behave – as he has created a crisis between London and Rabat, after constantly making outrageous, some say even ‘racist’ comments, about Morocco and its subjects, landing him in hot water.
Consequently, it’s believed Britain’s Foreign Office is moving ahead with plans to cut short his term as ambassador, Strategic Culture Foundation understands, although the Ambassador is telling local journalists that he is leaving early due to family issues.
But last week, some were arguing that he should leave the job immediately after upsetting Moroccan dignitaries who are calling his comments “racist” – following a year of constant jibes and complaints about Morocco, which even colleagues have admitted are “inappropriate” for an ambassador, prompting at least one Consulate General to quit his post, while a defence attaché bites the bullet and remains, while “hating” Reilly, insiders claim.
Even the Moroccan elite in Rabat is confused about Reilly, in particular his constant complaining about his host country.
“Some of these comments could be interpreted as racist and inappropriate” says Moroccan politician Nizar Baraka, who heads the powerful conservative party here, which has good relations with Downing Street. “And Mr Reilly was certainly different from previous British ambassadors”, he concedes. “It’s a shame as there are so many opportunities now for the UK here” he adds.
Adil Alaoui, a physiotherapist in Casablanca, agrees with Baraka, the former finance minister. “Reilly’s comments would be seen by many here as racist, certainly, as they are not really appropriate for a diplomat, I think” he tells Strategic Culture Foundation . “I mean, who is Thomas Reilly? He’s been invited here and he’s a diplomat so she shouldn’t say such things about Morocco. And as far as Gibraltar goes, he shouldn’t be telling Morocco who it should or should not develop relations with” he adds.
Experts are worried his manners and his general obsession with himself – which has included self gentrification involving polo lessons and a twitter campaign targeting the national airline which resulted in the CEO giving him VIP treatment – will scupper a massive arms deal Downing Street was hoping to secure with Rabat in 2020.
Indeed, the accusations of racism, personal attacks and strange behaviour are backed up by a good number of British expatriates living in Morocco who are “appalled” by his abrupt manners and “colonial” swagger. Many accuse him of being “delusional” about his position as ambassador as he has not only managed to upset important figures in Rabat but is engaged in a number of personal, vindictive spats with Brits living in Morocco who believe his unique style could threaten British jobs and investment post Brexit.
His vindictive treatment of those who anger him is to shut down embassy and consular services to them as an act of spite, according to some. Enquiries by Strategic Culture Foundation immediately found at least three British subjects who claim they have fallen victim to this.
But even on a grander scale, his brash style has “raised eyebrows by colleagues” according to a previous senior colleague who worked with him in Rabat.
There have been a number of gaffes. The biggest one which caused outrage in Gibraltar by the UK’s chief minister there who complained to the Foreign Office about Mr Reilly, came when he appeared to have made a perceived threat to Morocco. In a radio interview with a Moroccan journalist Mr Reilly warns Rabat not to develop relations with Gibraltar as this would anger Madrid. But the comment has been taken as a threat from London to Rabat and caused an even deeper diplomatic rift between Morocco and the UK, angering the Gibraltar minister so much that he lobbied London to recall Reilly.
The reckless remark by Mr Reilly, who has seen service as a diplomat in Yemen, Kuwait and Argentina, is not the first to anger dignitaries in Rabat though. It is widely known in Rabat that Mr Reilly does not get on well with Morocco’s foreign minister who has been snubbed on occasion, according to diplomatic sources. Not one photo exists of the two of them together and his office doesn’t even wish to comment on Mr Reilly’s departure – not even wish him good luck, as is typical when an ambassador moves on.
In fact, the fall out between Reilly and Nasser Bourita is said to have got so bad, that in early December, Mr Reilly felt the need to defend himself in a first person article published in a Moroccan journal where he suggests that the foreign minister in Rabat is not important – putting his foot in it once again and making the situation even worse.
These disrespectful and condescending comments come after three years of inappropriate ramblings on social media which Rabat has had to tolerate, but which even Brits have found racist and patronising – ranging from how badly Moroccans drive, to how they cope with garbage right through to repeatedly running down the national carrier Royal Air Maroc, which appeared to be an on line obsession with Mr Reilly who is obliged to use it for UK flights.
New terror threat scares Brits
But his petulant outbursts, sometimes directly to the faces of his victims is how Mr Reilly will be remembered by British expatriates here, who are largely delighted that the Foreign Office has listened to their complaints.
Many fear that Mr Reilly’s pomposity and how he looked down on the 300 British residents in Marrakesh as beneath him, has left them high and dry, in the face of a new terror threat in the tourist hotspot. Despite repeated calls from them to engage with them over the subject of security, Mr Reilly has chosen to flatly IGNORE them and their demands, they claim.
Just recently, the tension with the Marrakesh Brit community came to a head when one of its pensioners – a retired defence and security expert – travelled hundreds of miles to Rabat to meet with Reilly, whereupon the British ambassador “insulted” him with a verbal attack which left him “shaken”, according to an eye witness. The pensioner, who is in poor health and who refuses to go on record, due to fear of reprisal of Reilly, claims that the ambassador launched into a tirade of abuse and inappropriate accusations the moment the topic of security of British residents in Marrakesh was raised – a subject which enrages him, and, his colleagues claim “he just can’t be bothered with”.
The former Consulate General, who witnessed the shameful outburst explained to the elderly gentleman, who was recovering from a stroke, that “…it’s what he does, I’m afraid. He just has these outbursts”.
Boris Johnson asked to deal with “total prat”
Another retired British resident had a clash with Reilly and lost her patience with him, on the same subject – prompting her to write a letter complaining to Boris Johnson, when he was foreign minister.
“He’s just such a total prat” gasps Susan Machin, a retired high class barrister who used to be a drinking pal of Johnson when he was editor of the Spectator.
“He’s wholly inappropriate as an ambassador and I find him very unpleasant, full of himself. Thomas Reilly knows it all”, says Machin, a pillar of the British community in Morocco, who runs a donkey sanctuary south of Marrakesh.
“There are very bad vibes about Reilly from many Brits living here but many top Brits who are well connected are ignored by Reilly who doesn’t even invite them to events”.
She claims Reilly is self-obsessed and cares little about British residents.
“It’s all about what we call the Thomas and Alix show” she claims the wife of the British defence attaché said, when talking about the clash between Reilly and the senior British diplomat who could strike gargantuan deals for UK arms makers – if he too didn’t have a problem with Reilly, who doesn’t take advice from anyone. Even about the royal visit of Meghan and Harry, which she claims was a “disaster”.
Meghan’s jeans and British guns
“He made huge mistakes when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex came and Meghan wore jeans to an event which shocked the Moroccans. The advice should have been a party dress, as “local Berber women were insulted by the stunt”, according to one British resident . During that visit British journalists were invited but that resulted in the following Sunday one writing a huge piece on the King of Morocco calling him a ‘despot’”, she claims.
She believes this insult to King Mohammed VI is responsible for total failure for British defence firms to sell to Morocco.
“I’m sure we’re losing out on arms deals and until he leaves, we’ll continue to lose out as the relations between the UK and Morocco are good and we have a good defence attaché”
The final straw for Mrs Machin was Gibraltar though where his behaviour was outrageous and he “should have gone” then.
“For me, this was his biggest mistake as earlier I had written to Boris Johnson who I had quite good relationship with when I was a barrister asking him in the event to being kidnapped or arrested here in Morocco how could I be sure that I would have embassy or consular support [under Reilly as ambassador]?”
Blocks army exercise to rescue Brits
James Cutting, a film producer and scout who has worked with Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp here on a movie, agrees with these concerns about terrorism and also says that Reilly should resign. “He simply hasn’t got the skills” he tells Strategic Culture Foundation .
Cutting claims that an excellent warden network, volunteers who help anyone in distress in Marrakesh, has been entirely abandoned by the embassy, which has not updated or checked it in years – leaving Brits wide open to danger in the event of a panic following an attack, similar to the bombing in 2011 which killed 16, including a British travel writer.
Even military exercises carried out by British army officers to evacuate people in the event of a terror attack were not supported by Reilly who a senior ex army officer accused outright of obstruction: “He told me that they’ve had no help whatsoever from Reilly on these exercises” Cuttings recalls. “In fact, permits from the ministry of interior were not even arranged… Reilly was very much against it”.
“Reilly blocked the whole thing and we couldn’t go ahead with it” he explains.
Cutting also bemoans the short comings of British embassy and consular staff in Rabat which, like the two honorary consuls in Marrakesh, are all Moroccan nationals – causing a myriad of communication problems and misunderstandings as officials invariably don’t even speak English.
The British security expert, who Reilly attacked in the embassy in Rabat who we don’t wish to name, agrees.
“Marrakech is very fine at the moment but vulnerable to terrorist attack .The Hon Consulate is useless, though the Moroccan staff are very nice people, as it’s nothing more than a travel agency” he explains.
“Marrakech I think is wide open despite the very fine efforts of the British Consular”.
“I think there is a total failure to look after British nationals despite the very fine efforts of the UK consular and the Moroccan security services, I hope nothing goes amiss but I think we are vulnerable”, he warns.
Cuttings, who is one of those residents, didn’t clash with Reilly but still thinks he should leave. He says that Reilly’s unique characteristics might be costing the UK hundreds of millions in lost trade and that, consequently, it’s “for the best” that he leaves as soon as possible, not least because of his undiplomatic manners but because of the cost of his outbursts and histrionics which British subjects have to endure.
“There are enormous opportunities for trade between Morocco and the UK, in so many different fields. Now the UK is leaving the EU Morocco can trade in agriculture, clothing and also arms” he adds. “I got on reasonably well with Reilly but I do believe he lacked the necessary diplomatic skills that are required of an Ambassador”.
Claims by British residents of Mr Reilly’s damage to relations with Morocco and potential arms sales was supported recently when Rabat announced a new record deal with U.S. arms firm totalling almost 10bn USD for Apache helicopters and F16 fighter jets, considered a slap in the face to the UK, which was hoping to benefit from Morocco’s new arms race with Algeria. Reilly’s reaction to this news was to simply make social media posts about his socks again on the day of the London conference aimed at drumming up trade, which enrages expats in Morocco who think he’s lost the plot.
In recent days, news came also that Rabat was buying Israeli-made drones as part of its defence spending bonanza. Britain’s defence attaché in Rabat refuses to comment.
Martin Jay is an award-winning freelance journalist and political commentator.
Originally published in Strategic Culture online journal. The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.