British business backs BP on oil spill, govt silent
* Business groups criticise pressure on BP
* Investors call on British government to intervene
By Tom Bergin
LONDON, June 10 (Reuters) - British business leaders have criticised the Obama Administration for the level of political pressure on BP over its Gulf of Mexico oil spill and investors are calling on the UK government to support the company.
BP's shares (BP.L) continued a downward spiral on Thursday -- at one point hitting their lowest level in 13 years -- as Washington ratchets up the pressure on BP to pay more costs and cut its dividend. [ID:nN09136035]
"It's a matter of concern when politicians get heavily involved in business in this way," Richard Lambert, head of the CBI, the leading British business lobby group, said in an emailed statement.
The government should act, said Alistair Tebbit, a spokesman for another business group, the Institute of Directors.
"It's one for the politicians to move on now," he said.
On Monday, the chief executives of some of Britain's biggest companies including Vodafone (VOD.L), BG Group (BG.L) and WPP (WPP.L) gathered for a party at BP's headquarters to show their support for embattled BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, Bloomberg Businessweek reported on Thursday.
BP confirmed the meeting but denied it was a party.
"It was an informal briefing of key UK stakeholders who were interested in the current events," spokesman Toby Odone said.
Odone was unable to say if alcohol was served at the event -- at which BG CEO Frank Chapman was reported to have embraced Hayward -- or whether the UK government was represented.
The head of UK overseas intelligence agency MI6, John Sawers, was at the event, the report said.
Officials from the intelligence agency and the Foreign Office, the government department of which it is a part, have previously gone on to work for BP after leaving public service.
BG, WPP, Vodafone and the Foreign Office declined to confirm the attendance of their representatives.
CAMERON CALLED ON TO BACK BP
Hayward has been slammed in the U.S. for BP's design of the blown out oil well, the clean-up effort and several ill-chosen comments, including one that he wanted his life back.
President Obama, who is himself under pressure due to the crisis, said he would have sacked the CEO over the gaffes if Hayward was working for him.
The British government declined to comment on whether it would press London-based BP's case with the White House although Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to discuss the oil spill with the President in a telephone call scheduled for this weekend. [ID:nLDE659160]
UK investors said it was time for Cameron to act.
"I find it very strange that the British government seems detached from something which is so much concern to so many British savers," said Eric Chalker, spokesman for the UK Shareholders' Association, which represents retail investors.
London Mayor Boris Johnson, a close ally of Cameron, said the threat to BP's dividend, which U.S. politicians want cut, was a "matter of national concern".
"There's something slightly worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating from America," he told BBC radio.
On Wednesday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said BP would have to pay workers laid off because of a drilling moratorium imposed after the spill -- a liability that was likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
A BP insider said the demands for such costs to be met could prompt a showdown with the White House. [ID:nLDE6582NC] (Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon, Paul Sandle, Tim Castle and William Maclean; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)
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