By Jennifer Carlile, msnbc.com staff
The oil polluting Louisiana’s marshes lies about 5,000 miles away from Britain’s coastline. But while wildlife, the fishing industry and tourism here are safe from the slick, the leak is hitting Britons’ pockets and their pride.
By Wednesday night, BP's shares had lost more than half of their market value -- or at least $71 billion -- in the 52 days since the crisis began. Almost every pension fund in the U.K. owns shares in the energy giant, raising serious questions about the impact the firm's plummeting value will have on the retirement plans for millions of Britons. President Barack Obama's threat to block a BP dividend payment in order to ensure victims of the spill get compensation has also sparked widespread alarm.
“Obama’s boot on the throat of British pensioners” read the front-page headline in Thursday's Daily Telegraph, which added that the president's "attacks on BP were blamed for wiping billions off the company’s value."
“U.K. alarm over attack on BP” was the Financial Times' take on the crisis, which it suggested could damage transatlantic relations. The newspaper accused President Barack Obama of employing "increasingly aggressive rhetoric" against BP.
Shares in BP hit their lowest level in 13 years on Thursday. According to the Telegraph, BP executives are so worried that Obama’s comments could continue to drive down BP's share price that the firm has asked Prime Minister David Cameron to intervene. Cameron is due to speak with Obama this weekend.
Obama and U.S. officials have repeatedly referred to BP as “British Petroleum” -- despite the fact that the company officially changed its name in 2000. Some have interpreted this as an attack on the country's reputation.
Last Friday, Obama declared “what I don’t want to hear is, when they’re spending that kind of money on their shareholders and … TV advertising, that they’re nickel-and-diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf.”
'Matter of national concern'
Some are concerned about the battering the U.K.'s image is taking in the U.S.
"I do think there's something slightly worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that seems to be permeating from America,” Boris Johnson, London's New York-born mayor, told the BBC on Thursday. “I do think that it starts to become a matter of national concern if a great British company is being continually beaten up on the international airwaves.
"I would like to see a bit of cool heads and a bit of calm reflection about how to deal with this problem rather than endlessly buck passing and name calling."
At London’s King’s Cross train station, Thelma Aengenheister echoed the mayor’s sentiments.
“It’s easier for Obama to kick a British company than an American one; there will be fewer repercussions,” said the 80-year-old, who was on her way to Brussels. “It’s like kicking someone when they’re down. But I do feel for the people of Louisiana, it must be dreadful for them.”
While making cappuccinos and lattes, coffee-stand owner Haroon admitted he was "worried" about the impact losing BP's dividend would potentially have on his pension plan.
"A lot of pension funds will have invested in BP because of the dividend,” said the 34-year-old, who lives in south London.
But despite fear over the value of their pensions, there is little sympathy for Tony Hayward, BP's gaffe-prone chief executive who has been criticized for his handling of the disaster.
Kirsty Anthony, a 41-year-old teacher, said that she believed Hayward should be "sacked."
“I’m worried about the wildlife and I think most British people think he should be held accountable; Obama would blame a U.S. company just the same,” Anthony added.
However, some newspaper columnists have claimed that the language used against BP has been much harsher than the treatment of U.S. company ExxonMobil after the Exxon Valdez oil tanker sank off Alaska in 1989.
Others have noted that when the North Sea oil rig Piper Alpha exploded in 1988, killing 167 people, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did not verbally attack its American owners.
Some pundits even claim Obama has a deep-seated dislike for Britain.
Stephen Glover, a columnist for the right-wing Daily Mail tabloid, wrote: "The president's public evisceration of BP cannot merely be explained by his feelings of impotence or his political predicament.
"I don't wish to sound paranoid, but it is pretty clear that Mr Obama does not much like anything that is British. There is an anti-British undertow throughout his book 'Dreams From My Father', with slighting references to the country and its citizens."
Glover suggested that Obama’s allegation that his grandfather was tortured by British authorities in Kenya in the 1950s “helped to shape his feelings about Britain.”
He added that Obama displays “no affection for, or interest in, this country and its history,” and noted how upon entering the Oval Office, he immediately returned a bust of Winston Churchill that had been loaned to George W. Bush.
However, that view didn't find much support on the streets of London.
IT consultant Paul Titley said that blame for such an environmental catastrophe had to be placed somewhere.
“I don’t think Americans dislike British people,” he said. “Thankfully, I don’t have money tied up in BP. I don’t have a pension. … I live for today.”