Nicholas Cecil, Chief Political Correspondent
Senior Tories today warned Barack Obama to back off as billions of pounds were wiped off BP shares in the row over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Mayor Boris Johnson demanded an end to “anti-British rhetoric, buck-passing and name-calling” after days of scathing criticism directed at BP by the President and other US politicians.
Former Conservative Party chairman Lord Tebbit branded Mr Obama’s conduct “despicable”. And with the dispute threatening to escalate into a diplomatic row, Mr Johnson also appeared to suggest that David Cameron should step in to defend BP.
He spoke as the US onslaught against the firm became a “matter of national concern” — especially given its importance to British pensions, which lost much of their value today as BP shares plunged to a 13-year low.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today whether he thought the Prime Minister should intervene, Mr Johnson said: “Well I do think there is something slightly worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating from America. Yes I suppose that’s right.
I would like to see cool heads and a bit of calm reflection about how to deal with this problem rather than endlessly buck-passing and name-calling.
“When you consider the huge exposure of British pension funds to BP and its share price, and the vital importance of BP, then I do think it starts to become a matter of national concern if a great UK company is being continually beaten up on the international airwaves.
“OK, it has presided over a catastrophic accident which it is trying to remedy but ultimately it cannot be faulted because it was an accident that took place. BP, I think is paying a very, very heavy price indeed.”
Downing Street steered clear of criticising Mr Obama’s conduct but in an apparent reference to concerns over UK pensions highlighted the “broader impact” of the spill and the need to deal with it swiftly. British business chiefs are alarmed that tough talking by Mr Obama and other US politicians is undermining the battered oil giant
BP’s shares fell by 12 per cent at one point today on the London market, after hitting their lowest level since 1997 in New York trading overnight, amid intensifying political attacks in the US. Their price dropped to 345p in early London trading before recovering to 370p — still down five per cent.
The slump means the firm’s share price has almost halved since the spill started in mid-April, when a well ruptured and the rig exploded, killing 11 workers.
Mr Cameron is due to speak to Mr Obama at the weekend over the issue. Among the President’s criticisms of BP was his suggestion that chief executive Tony Hayward would have been axed if he had been working for him.
BP said its latest effort to capture oil from the leak with a cap was now collecting about 15,000 barrels a day.