David Cameron will next week defend BP on a two-day visit to Washington, insisting the group must have a “stable and strong” future for the sake of the UK economy and the pensioners who rely on its dividends.
After three months of attacks against it provoked by the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP hopes it is regaining the initiative.
The group continued to stop any oil leaking from its Macondo well on Friday, using a cap installed this week, and is close to having a system in place to collect all the oil that has been escaping.
Its shares have recovered in the past two weeks as hopes rise that it can prevent the costs of the?spill?spiralling?out of control.
The political attacks on BP in the US Congress have continued this week, with allegations over the company’s role in the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber, and a threat to stop it securing any more offshore exploration leases.
BP is concerned that the pressure from US politicians could cripple the company, leaving it vulnerable to a bid from ExxonMobil, the largest US oil group.
Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP’s chairman, met Mr Cameron on Friday to urge him to help counter the attacks being directed against BP from Capitol Hill.
Mr Cameron told Mr Svanberg that he did not want to inflame the row but that he would deliver a firm reminder to Barack Obama, US president, and congressional leaders of the importance of BP to the UK economy.
“The prime minister will be keen to make clear how important the company is as a UK employer and how important it is for pension funds,” one official said, speaking after the 45-minute meeting with Mr Svanberg.
In another move to support BP, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, UK ambassador to Washington, rejected the accusation by some US senators that the group had lobbied the UK government to release Mr al-Megrahi from jail in an attempt to win new contracts in Libya.
In a letter to John Kerry, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, Sir Nigel said inaccuracies were “harmful to the UK”.
BP has acknowledged it did lobby the UK government to speed up a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya.
Mr Cameron and Mr Svanberg agreed that the prime minister should not stoke the row, nor exaggerate the threat to BP posed by some senators, but that he would stress the UK national interest.
One aide to Mr Cameron said: “At the moment, we’re not overly worried. These are just a few senators talking at the moment. We don’t think the US administration is taking it too seriously either.”
Mr Cameron is not expected directly to lobby any of the senators who have been most critical of BP, including Chuck Schumer from New York, who accused BP of making a “wink-and-nod request” for Mr al-Megrahi to be freed.
The prime minister is also expected to discuss financial issues on his visit.
Downing Street declined to comment on suggestions that he would meet Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs.