1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Oil spill

June 11, 2010

British politicians and bloggers are bristling at what they see as Obama's anti-British comments regarding the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Have the US president's remarks damaged the two countries' relations?

Hand showing oil from water marshes
Some Britons think Obama is picking on the UKImage: AP

Under huge domestic pressure to take an active role in managing the crisis caused by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, US President Barack Obama appeared on a domestic TV news program saying he was trying to find out “whose ass to kick.” He also added that he would have fired BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward.

Authorities have been struggling for weeks to repair the BP platform that ruptured on April 20 and has been leaking oil along the US Gulf coast ever since. The presidential tongue-lashing is thought to have contributed to BP's plummeting stock prices, which hit a 13-year low before bouncing back up on Friday.

Tony Hayward
BP CEO Tony Hayward has been criticized for his handling of the worst US oil spill in historyImage: AP


In the UK, politicians and political pundits alike are calling for Obama to back off.

London's Conservative mayor, Boris Johnson, says the BP-bashing is helping no one.

“The best thing now is not to get into too much name-calling and buck-passing, and attempt to damage the reputation of a great British company, but to work together to sort it out,” Johnson said.

Some have accused the US president not just of being too harsh on BP, but of being anti-British, pointing out that Obama has repeatedly referred to BP as 'British Petroleum' - a name the company hasn't used for years.

Ian Cowie, a blogger for the the conservative paper the Daily Telegraph, has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to have his 'Hugh Grant moment' - referring to a scene in the film Love Actually where Hugh Grant, playing the British PM, stands up to the US president at a joint press conference.

A brown pelican covered in oil
The oil spill is major threat to wildlife-and Obama's presidential imageImage: AP

Conservative blogger Iain Dale says its time for the UK to assert itself.

“I think there comes a time when you have to stand up to an ally and say, ‘look, you're going to far,'” said Dale.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Clegg has stressed that the two nations are working towards a common goal.

"I don't frankly think we're going to reach a solution, stopping the release of oil into the ocean any quicker, by allowing this to spiral into a tit for tat diplomatic and political spat," Clegg said.

Money matters

As a giant of the UK economy, BP's share prices matter a great deal to the thousands of investors and pensioners who have holdings in the oil giant.

BP says it pays out around one in every six pounds (7.22 euros, $8.70) in dividends paid by FTSE 100 pension funds, so if it is forced by the US to suspend its dividend payments until it is clear it has enough cash to pay compensation for the oil spill, this will directly impact the finances of thousands of UK pensioners.

Strained relations

hands covered in oil
BP estimates clean-up bill at 2-4 billion euros ($3-$6 billion)Image: AP

The UK's newspapers are full of claims that the relationship between the two countries is becoming strained over the issue. The Daily Telegraph ran a cartoon showing Britannia, an emblem of national pride, dropping her shield and clutching her helmet as Obama kicks her behind.

But US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley believes the leak will not affect relations.

“This is about the impact of a tragedy and the resulting oil spill, Crowley said. "This is not about relations between the United States and its closest ally.”

BP says it has enough cash to pay for the clean-up of and compensation for the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. But with its shares at around a 13 year-low, many investors in the UK feel they are suffering along with those affected along the US Gulf coast.

Author: Olly Barrat (smh)
Editor: Chuck Penfold