THERE were growing calls for David Cameron to throw his weight behind troubled oil major BP last night, but the Prime Minister appeared to side with the American government.
London mayor Boris Johnson broke ranks to hit out at “the anti British rhetoric… permeating from America” and said the matter was of “great concern” because of the “huge exposure of British pension funds” to BP.
Asked if he thought Cameron should intervene in the escalating war of words, he replied: “A national company is being repeatedly beaten down over the airwaves.”
The mayor’s spokesman told City A.M.: “This in an environmental catastrophe. BP has lessons to learn and of course it’s right to criticise it, but let’s not demonise an important Anglo American firm.”
Downing Street said Cameron would raise the issue with Barack Obama in a telephone call at the weekend. One official said the Prime Minister would have contacted the President sooner were he not visiting troops in Afghanistan.
Obama, whose approval ratings have plummeted from 60 per cent last year to around 48 per cent, is trying to deflect criticism of the government’s response to the spill by targeting BP.
In recent days he has said he would have fired BP boss Tony Hayward, and described the oil major’s actions as potentially criminal. Transocean and Halliburton, American firms that have been implicated in the spill, have gone virtually unmentioned.
But Cameron appeared to resist calls for a robust national defence of BP, saying he sympathised with the American government’s “frustration”.
“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 US government’s frustration.”
And foreign secretary William Hague dismissed suggestions BP was the target of anti-British rhetoric, effectively contradicting the mayor’s comments.
“No-one has used an anti-British tone in anything I have detected. The important thing here is dealing with the problem. I think that is more important than any rhetoric that any of us may indulge in,” Hague said.
Veteran Tory politician Lord Tebbit said the “whole might of American wealth and technology” had been “utterly unable to deal with the disastrous spill”.
He added: “So what is more natural than a crude, bigoted, xenophobic display of partisan political Presidential petulance against a multinational company?”
Even Labour MP Tom Watson called on Cameron to publicly support BP. “They are engulfed in a crisis now... it’s just not appropriate that the government takes a laissez faire approach to their plight,” he said.
CHIEF EXEC REFINING AND MARKETING
SPECULATION over whether BP chief executive Tony Hayward will be ousted from his role at the top of the embattled oil major has led to intense speculation of who might be suited to take over at the helm of the oil giant.
Iain Conn, BP’s refining and marketing chief and current clean-up boss Bob Dudley are two names being touted by analysts as possible successors to Hayward.
Insiders have said that Conn, who has spent his entire career with BP, is now in the right place at the right time to take the reins. Conn’s work in ramping up BP’s safety procedures in the post-Texas City disaster means that his chances are high, according to analysts who say this experience is exactly what BP?needs to cope with the aftermath of the disaster.
But Conn faces strong competition from Dudley, who is famed for having run BP’s Russian arm TNK-BP. US-born and educated, and with a chemical engineering degree from the University of Illinois, he widely viewed as an expert in the field.
But people close to the situation argue that Dudley’s latest appointment running the oil spill clean-up works against him as it means he has no role in making strategic corporate decisions.
While the position has not yet officially opened up, pressure for Hayward’s resignation is mouting amid a series of insensitive gaffes including his initial description of the oil spill as “tiny” and his comment that he “wanted to get his life back”, when 11 people had died in the rig disaster on 20 April. The market suggests that although it may be unfair to force Hayward to resign, it could be the only thing to save BP.