Anger over Obama's 'anti-British' comments

President Barack Obama: Anti-British?
President Barack Obama: Anti-British?

By Ian Dunt

The protracted crisis over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has threatened to turn into a full-on spat between the UK and the US.

Mr Obama's tough rhetoric against BP, which is being held responsible for the crisis, has started to create irritation in Britain, with several leading conservatives accusing the US president of xenophobia.

Mr Obama has been repeatedly referring to the company as 'British petroleum', a name that has not been used in years.

London mayor Boris Johnson branded some of the comments "anti-British".

"I do think there's something slightly worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating from America," he told the Today programme.

"I would like to see a bit of cool heads rather than endlessly buck-passing and name-calling. When you consider the huge exposure of British pension funds to BP it starts to become a matter of national concern if a great British company is being continually beaten up on the airwaves.

"It was an accident that took place and BP is paying a very, very heavy price indeed."

Lord Tebbit, former trade and industry spokesman, lambasted the president for his response to the crisis.

"The whole might of American wealth and technology is displayed as utterly unable to deal with the disastrous spill - so what more natural than a crude, bigoted, xenophobic display of partisan political presidential petulance against a multinational company?" he wrote.

Downing Street has been careful not to become embroiled in the row and David Cameron went out of his way to play down concerns during his visit to Afghanistan today.

"I've got a series of meetings and telephone calls and other contacts with the president coming up and I'm sure that BP and what's happened off the Gulf coast will be something we will discuss," he told reporters.

"This is an environmental catastrophe. BP needs to do everything it can to deal with the situation and the UK government stands ready to help. I completely understand the U.S. government's frustration.

"The most important thing is to try to mitigate the effects and get to grips with the problem. It's something I will discuss with the American president when we next talk."

BP shares plunged 12% at the start of London trading today, with investors predicting that Mr Obama is about to impose severe penalties on the company.

The new plunge continues what has become the greatest crisis in the company's history. Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20th, its price has halved.

The political pressure on the British company is now intense. US interior secretary Ken Salazar called for BP to compensate other oil companies for the damage done to them by Mr Obama's decision to place a moratorium on deep-sea drilling.

Meanwhile, associate attorney general Thomas Perelli told a congressional hearing the justice department may force BP to withhold its next dividend payment.

Further congressional hearings will take place today as the company desperately tries to salvage its international reputation.

Part of the White House's anger has been put down to its own technological limitations. The president has been forced to rely on BP technology and tactics - most of it wholly unsuccessful - in his desperation to stop the oil from further damaging the area.


Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.