US, Britain to discuss BP as fears grow of oil leak backlash

10th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

British premier David Cameron said Thursday he will discuss BP's handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill with US President Barack Obama within days, as fears grew of an anti-British backlash in the US.

Prime Minister Cameron is expected to talk to Obama Saturday or Sunday as the British oil giant and its chief executive Tony Hayward face mounting pressure over its response to the worst environmental disaster in US history.

Politicians and business leaders here have expressed fears that "anti-British rhetoric" was taking hold in the United States, and that other British businesses could even be hit as a result.

"I understand the US government's frustration because it is a catastrophe for the environment," Cameron said as he made his first visit to Afghanistan.

"Obviously everyone wants everything to be done that can be done. Of course that is something I will be discussing with the American president."

Meanwhile, London mayor Boris Johnson summed up growing concern in Britain about reactions to BP stateside, telling BBC radio: "I do think there's something slightly worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating from America."

Johnson, of Cameron's Conservative party, added: "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."

Obama, who faced initial criticism for not being tough enough on BP, has stepped up the pressure amid growing US public anger fuelled by media coverage of oiled birds and crude washing up on beaches.

A cap placed last week over the gushing well some 50 miles (80 kilometres) off Louisiana is capturing nearly 15,000 barrels, or 630,000 gallons, of crude a day, yet oil continues to pour into the gulf.

BP's share price collapsed by almost 16 percent in London trading early Thursday though towards the close they were down just over five percent.

Its shares have lost around 42 percent of their value since the April 20 explosion aboard a drilling rig operated by BP which killed 11 workers and blew open the well.

Some investors fear that the intense political pressure from Washington could force the group to axe its prized shareholder dividend.

Miles Templeman, director-general of the Institute of Directors, which represents senior British businessmen, said he was "very concerned" by the comments against BP.

"There is a danger that this will become a British business thing and there will be a prejudice against British companies because of it," he told the Financial Times. "The issue should be decided outside politics".

And Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to the United States, told the BBC that the oil spill had become "a bit of a crisis, politically".

"The government must put down a marker with the US administration that the survival and long term prosperity of BP is a vital British interest," he said.

The issue was raised in the House of Commons by a lawmaker who feared that British pensioners could suffer as a result of BP's plunging share price.

But Foreign Secretary William Hague, who last month said Washington is "without doubt" London's most important ally, played down concerns of opinion turning against Britain in the United States.

"No-one has used an anti-British tone in anything I have detected," he told BBC radio.

"The prime minister, of course, will be able to discuss this with President Obama, but the important thing here is actually dealing with the problem that has arisen from that oil spill, dealing with it out at sea and making sure that everything possible is done.

"I think that is more important than any rhetoric that any of us may indulge in about it."

Cameron only took office as head of a coalition government last month and is expected to meet Obama face-to-face for the first time in the job in Washington in July.

© 2010 AFP

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