Brits Irritated Over American Anti-BP Talk

It's gone too far, they say, and it's hurting their pension plans

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"U.S. Fury at BP Stirs Backlash Among British," reads the New York Times headline. What sort of backlash? Everyone from the mayor of London (a favorite of the Wire's for other reasons) to British columnists seems pretty irritated. They feel that anti-BP rhetoric in U.S. media and among American politicians is not only hurting a company many Brits have invested in, but is beginning to take on a jingoistic tone. Many were also unhappy to hear President Obama refer to BP as "British Petroleum," a name the company had given up. Here's the roundup of irritated British opinion.

  • Just How Much this Rhetoric Will Hurt Us   The Spectator's Melanie Phillips is angry at Prime Minister David Cameron for "tak[ing] Obama's side," saying he "understand[s] the US Government's frustration." She accuses Foreign Secretary William Hague of "display[ing] an event closer attachment to Obama's rear end" by denying having heard any "anti-British tone" in the rhetoric coming out of the U.S. She argues Obama "has morphed from Jesus to Icarus," and that it's Cameron's obvious duty to defend BP, given that the anti-BP and anti-British talk could lower BP's share price "and hence the pension investments of millions of Britons."
  • Everyone Calm Down  Helene Dancer at Mediaelites posts an open letter to America, covering all the possible reasons the U.S. and England "might not be friends anymore," including if the U.S. manages to beat England in the World Cup match on Saturday. She hopes the friendship, however, will endure. Her attempt to explain British pique to Americans:
This BP oil leak fiasco is escalating and some over-sensitive souls over here have taken umbrage to your government's strong words to BP, and have accused the administration of jingoism. When Obama referred to BP's full name --British Petroleum--which it hasn't called itself in more than 10 years, it really put some noses out of joint. London's Evening Standard newspaper then made a point of printing Obama's full name. It's a cheap shot and I find it utterly depressing.

The thing is, lots of UK pensions are bound up in BP stock, which is why they're getting all jittery. But all this posturing and name-calling is just irrelevant--just fix the leak, you idiots.

  • Ending 'the Great British Love-in with Barack Obama' At the London Times, Malcolm Rifkind (former British foreign secretary) writes of "growing concern that the President's angry rhetoric is going over the top and risks dividing the United States and the United Kingdom." BP "deserves criticism," he asserts, and "there is also much sympathy for the President as he seeks to assure the American public that he is in control of a disaster." But too much talk of making BP pay or--worse--of a takeover destroys share prices and dividends, with disastrous results for both British and American shareholders.
  • Calling BP 'British Petroleum' The two letters have not, "for many years," points out The Spectator's Fraser Nelson, stood for that. "You won't find the two words anywhere in [BP's] annual report. But you hear them plenty tripping off the presidential tongue, as if to point the finger on the other side of the Atlantic. It makes you wonder how highly he values UK-US relations." He points out that Transocean, the rig owner, could just as easily be blamed for the disaster, but "blaming the Swiss would not qutie have the same political effect in America." Bush wouldn't have done this, he suggets. "It makes you wonder: is there still a 'special relationship' or is America just not that into us?"
  • Fix It--Don't 'Stand on the Beach Shouting Insults' Guardian and Times writer Simon Jenkins, from The Huffington Post, says "Obama has come across as a weak, complaining politician trying to blame a foreign bogeyman for a mishap which should be laid, if anywhere, at the door of his own oil industry and its regulators. It is not edifying. It reminds many Britons of another American president, Obama's predecessor."
  • And Don't Insult Us and Ask for Troops  At Foreign Policy, Will Inboden provides some helpful analysis of the opinion landscape across the pond. "Two particular stories have featured in headlines in the major U.K. newspapers this week: BP's plummeting share price from President Obama's rhetorical attacks, and the London visit by Secretary Gates and General Petraeus urging a continued strong U.K. troop commitment to the NATO mission in Afghanistan." Obama's decision to call the company "'British Petroleum ... even though that has not been the company's name since 1998" has not helped. To Brits, it looks like "the Obama administration is attacking a pillar of our economy while urging us to sacrifice even more blood and treasure in Afghanistan."
  • 'Hollywood Loves a Villain with an English Accent'   Calling "American hostility to BP ... fundamentally misplaced," if understandable, David Strahan at The Independent argues Americans should probably be "thanking" BP for issuing them a wakeup call "to get serious about cutting their consumption." He suggests President Obama "resist the temptation to succumb to a xenophobic blame game."
  • A Dissenting Voice The Telegraph's Benedict Brogan insists that the BP matter isn't the most important part of US-UK relations: "Our shared history is less rosy than we care to admit, but the best of our young men and women are dying daily alongside Americans in distant places. That is where the special relationship that really matters is forged."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.