David Blackburn

What can Cameron do about Obama’s war against BP?

What can Cameron do about Obama’s war against BP?
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Very little is my immediate answer. The President’s approval ratings are biting the dust. Powerless to stem the tide of oil and unpopularity, Obama can only victimise a ‘foreign’ oil company.

Obama may be embattled at home, but if any doubt the US President’s ability to influence global events, they need only look at BP’s share value and the pension funds derived thereof. BP is mired in an expensive oil disaster, but the President’s rhetoric about the ‘habitual environmental criminal’ and threatening BP with criminal proceedings demolishes market confidence. If the British government had condemned AIG, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch in similar tones, the US administration would have retorted.

Cameron can do nothing. He cannot alter the President’s strategy – Obama has no alternative. There is a further, unanswerable truth: Obama wouldn’t listen to the British government in any case. Ben Brogan has written a stirring defence of Cameron, Obama and the special relationship. He admits that Cameron and Obama have only spoken once as leaders of their respective countries - on the evening of Cameron’s accession. Brogan concedes that ‘some might voice surprise that Mr Cameron, who has made national security his first priority, has not felt a need to call our closest military ally.’ But equally, why hasn’t Obama rung his closest military ally?

I am sceptical that Britain’s relationship with America has ever been special; but relations with the Obama administration have been decidedly frosty. Obama has other (more realistic) global priorities; but, as I've argued before, the President's anti-British tenor is starting to grate. Cameron can’t influence the US, but he can urge BP to defend itself. Obama’s bluster overlooks the involvement of US oil company TransOcean in this disaster. Liability remains undetermined. BP is still worth £64bn this morning: that can buy a lot of legal muscle.

UPDATE: Confirming Cameron's powerlessness, here the PM tells James Kirkup that BP should just get on with it.