The Odd British Response To American Anger At BP

One of the most striking developments over the past several days has been news of the way that some Britons seem to be reacting to American anger at BP. It started with statements from Boris Johnson, the always outspoken Mayor London, who accused President Obama of using “anti-British rhetoric:”

Boris Johnson has warned that the “anti-British rhetoric” aimed at BP over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is becoming a matter of national concern.

The London Mayor said that the company was paying “a very, very heavy price” for the consequences of an accident and pointed out that UK pension funds had a “huge exposure” to BP.

His comments came as BP’s share price fell by 15.8 per cent in US trading and its London-listed stocks plunged even further, meaning that £57 billion has been wiped off its market value since the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

BP said that it was “not aware of any reason which justifies this share price movement”.

(…)

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today Programme, Mr Johnson said: “I do think there’s something slightly worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating from America.

“I would like to see a bit of 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 to BP’s share price, and the vital importance of BP, it starts to become a matter of national concern if a great British company is being continually beaten up on the international airwaves.”

(…)

“OK, it has presided over a catastrophic accident, which it is trying to remedy,” Mr Johnson said. “But ultimately it cannot be faulted because it was an accident that took place and BP, I think, is paying a very, very heavy price indeed.”

Considering the fact that BP is responsible for an industrial accident that killed eleven American citizens and is causing unprecedented damage to beaches and marshland all along the U.S. Gulf Coast, I can honestly say that I think Johnson is being more than a little cavalier in his easy dismissal of the crisis. For one thing, it’s not his beaches that are being inundated with oil. For another, despite his last statement above, we don’t really know that this was indeed an “accident,” or whether it was the result of gross negligence on the part of BP and the rig supervisors, as some reports indicate. In either case, it’s simply absurd to say that criticizing BP, or expecting them to do their job and stop the oil leak, clean up the damages, and compensate people for the damages they’ve caused is “anti-British.”

Johnson isn’t alone, one columnist for the Daily Mail is saying that President Obama’s behavior during this crisis reveals his underlying Anglophobia:

As the oil continues to gush in the Gulf of Mexico, angry rhetoric has gushed from President Barack Obama’s lips. His rabid denunciations of BP have damaged the interests not only of that company but of most British people, in a way that must make us wonder whether he leads a friendly country.

Vince Cable, the new Business Secretary, calls Obama’s rhetoric ‘extreme and unhelpful’; London mayor Boris Johnson says it’s ‘anti-British’, adding that ‘BP is paying a very, very heavy price indeed’.

Bemusingly, David Cameron says only that he understands the U.S. administration’s ‘frustration’, although he promises to take up the matter with Obama, after the Prime Minister returns from Afghanistan – where British troops are fighting and dying on behalf of the United States, it may be recalled.

‘Extreme and unhelpful’ is no exaggeration. Obama has played to the gallery by saying that he would like to sack Tony Hayward, head of BP; the president talks in a cheap way about ‘kicking ass’. Whether or not the American president can kick our asses, he can certainly hurt our wallets and purses.

As BP’s share price has plummeted, it has lost £55billion of its market value, and the company’s entire outlook is very bleak, which affects most of us. Every British insurance company, building society and pension fund has large holdings of BP shares in its portfolio.

If you have a pension, at present or in prospect, your income falls with every sour word Obama speaks. It’s a fine way for a friend to behave, if indeed we should regard the president as a friend.

(…)

When Obama continually refers to BP as ‘British Petroleum’, which is no longer its formal name, he is saying something revealing about himself, and his Anglophobic spite will come as no surprise to those who have followed his career, and read his memoir Dreams From my Father.

He seems to have made up the part about his father being tortured by the British in Kenya, but there’s no question that Obama nurses a disdain for and even dislike of this country.

I’m no fan of President Obama’s by any means, but I’ve got to say that I find myself  just a little bit stunned to see reactions like this coming from Brits who seem to be taking what is clearly justifiable anger at a company that has fallen down on the job and been less than clear with the public about the full extent of the disaster. It would be odd, for example, to see Americans reacting the same way if an American company caused an industrial accident in another country (the Bhopal disaster comes to mind).

As I write this, President Obama and Prime Minster Cameron are scheduled to talk via telephone about the crisis, although it escapes me exactly what  David Cameron can do to help with an environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, later today, the United States will play England in a first-round World Cup match. These are odd days in US-UK relations for sure.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Environment, Europe, Oil Spill, Politicians, US Politics, World Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. jeffwright says:

    Halliburton built the failsafe device that was supposed to stop the flow of oil but didnt. Transocean ran the rig. There are a a few people to blame for this. Obama is doing your country a disservice by not having stepped in two weeks ago with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines to coordinate the cleanup. The only reason he hasnt done so is because not letting BP clean up in their own pathetic way is to release them from financial liability. Yet standing back and flapping his gums about kicking ass is the rhetoric of a paper tiger. He is useless.

  2. jeffwright says:

    Halliburton built the failsafe device that was supposed to stop the flow of oil but didnt. Transocean ran the rig. There are a a few people to blame for this. Obama is doing your country a disservice by not having stepped in two weeks ago with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines to coordinate the cleanup. The only reason he hasnt done so is because not letting BP clean up in their own pathetic way is to release them from financial liability. Yet standing back and flapping his gums about kicking ass is the rhetoric of a paper tiger. He is useless.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    BP Amoco was also a 60/40 merger (60% BP/ 40% Amoco), and I’ve wondered whether this operation could be traced to the Amoco side. After the merger, I believe Amoco became the base of North American operations.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    The Daily Mail piece written by Geoffrey Wheatcroft is a lengthy indictment of America’s relationship with Britain, highlighted by justification for burning down the White House, outrage over the Suez crisis and America’s late entry in the two World Wars.

    I certainly think Obama has needlessly sought to reduce the importance of the special relationship, but in the field of sowing the populist winds with guile and misdirection, Obama is a piker compared to this wind bag.

  5. Davebo says:

    “Halliburton built the failsafe device that was supposed to stop the flow of oil but didnt. ”

    Nope, that was Cooper.

  6. daniel nutt says:

    BP is owned 40% in the UK, 39% in the USA, and 21% elsewhere. And certainly the Biitish have little control over it’s actions, especially when the company is working in America!

    Of course this is a disaster. And it’s terrible for those affected.

    But the fact remains that if the company is made to seem to be evil and uncaring after this accident (even though it remains to be seen where the concensus will fall) it stops people blaming Obama (Who’s job it surely should be to regulate these big companies along with the other Governments of the world).

    At the same time it costs a lot of normal British people their hard-earned pensions simply because of the way the economy works.

    If the UK government can make this seem like that loss isn’t there fault as early as possible, all the better for them.

    Not of course for the people who loose their pensions/fishing/beaches.

    In the end, BP, Obama and Co, and the UK Gov are all just trying to cover their own backs and shift blame away from what will ultimately only harm us normal folk.

    The good thing to do would be if everyone simply cooperated and cleaned it up. But that is to sacrifice control for transparency, which then hampers the above goal.

  7. It’s easy for an American to sit on this side of the ocean and ask why the Brits might get upset, when it’s our coastline that has oil seeping up on it and it’s not our pensions that have lost huge amounts of value.

    Likewise, it’s easy for an Englishman to sit on the other side of the pond and wonder why Americans are so upset at BP when it’s killing their pensions and it’s not their coastline in danger.

  8. Franklin says:

    Actually I haven’t heard Obama say jacksquat about the nationalities of anybody involved. Much beloved Sarah Palin, though, blamed everything on the foreigners immediately.

  9. douglasisalawyer says:

    londoners are cunts. boris johnson needs to do something about east london instead of worrying about remarks from obama remarks from across the pond. he has the hair of a *****.

  10. Neil Hudelson says:

    The mayor of London is right. Everyone knows Obama has a deep seated hatred of white people.

  11. Unfortunately some people in the British government have come out in support of British Petroleum today.