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BP briefs No 10 as fight to cap well enters critical 24 hours


The Prime Minister’s closest advisers will be briefed this morning by senior executives at BP over the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is understood that John Gerson, BP’s director of security and public affairs and a former deputy head of MI6, will appraise officials from the No 10 Policy Unit.

That briefing is aimed at advising the Prime Minister on the market sensitive information that BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward will present to City analysts this afternoon. It will also update government officials on the state of BP’s containment operation a mile down on the sea floor of the Gulf where the Macondo oil prospect blew 46 days ago.

It is understood that the Prime Minister will be provided with the same level of confidential information surrounding the blow out and the clean-up operation that has been made available to Barack Obama’s officials ahead of Mr Cameron’s scheduled meeting with the President next week.

Mr Gerson has already led delegations to brief the Policy Unit in recent days. The delegation is understood to have included another BP special adviser, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British ambassador to the US, According to one well-placed source the aim of the meeting has been “to keep the PM in the loop”. It is believed BP is not using the meetings to lobby the Prime Minister to intervene over Mr Obama’s hostile stance towards the company. “BP is a strategicially important company and as such you would expect No.10 to be kept informed,” the insider said. “This is a critical juncture for the company in terms of news of the containment operation and briefings the company will make to the market. You would expect the Prime Minister to be fully briefed ahead of his visit to the US.” A person close to the Cabinet confirmed: “The issue of BP is a very important one, particularly given its weighting in the FTSE-100. But frankly, I am not sure we should be picking up the phone to the President on behalf of BP. It isn’t a nationalised company.”

Last night Mr Hayward said the company will know “within the next 24 hours” if its attempts to cap the well and filter off oil and gas have succeeded. He said a second additional containment operation will begin next week. He said BP is “not sparing any resources” in its attempts to contain and clear up the oil spill.

BP’s leading shareholders are preparing to grill Mr Hayward at their scheduled conference call today. Several institutional shareholders privately confirmed that they will demand certainty over BP’s dividend, worth $10.5 billion a year to investors and a staple income of Britain’s leading pension funds.

“This problem is seismic. The annual dividends that BP pays represent 15 per cent of the [UK] stock market’s annual income. It would be incredibly damaging for it not to be paid,” said one top-ten shareholder. Investors said they would also be looking for clarity about the future of BP’s top management. “The US Government wants someone at BP to pay personally for this. We and other shareholders worry that it is going to be Tony Hayward. There are realistic worries growing among shareholders that he won’t be there in a week’s time,” the investor said.

The White House said last night that the US Government is sending BP a $69 million bill for clean-up costs to date.

BP shares closed 2.5p higher at 449.45p, cementing a partial rally after a 15 per cent plunge on Tuesday.

From The Times June 4, 2010