Barack Obama's anti-British prejudice helps neither BP nor an alliance that has served the world well for 100 years

President Barack Obama is understandably angry about the Gulf of Mexico oil leak.

The most powerful man in the world, and commander-in-chief of the sole 'hyper-power,' can only look on impotently as BP - a mere company - lurches from one plan to another in a so-far futile attempt to plug the leak.

His political opponents berate him for doing little or nothing to stem what is being billed as America's biggest environmental disaster.

Obama can only look on impotently as BP - a mere company - lurches from one plan to another in a so-far futile attempt to plug the leak

Obama can only look on impotently as BP - a mere company - lurches from one plan to another in a so-far futile attempt to plug the leak

So do his green supporters. On all sides, the hapless President is criticised for being ineffectual.

Doubtless his sense of powerlessness, combined with a fear that his presidency could be fatally weakened if this disaster drags on too long, largely explains his obsession with BP's allegedly reckless behaviour. He must find someone to kick.

Yet the extent of his vitriol against BP is unwise and potentially dangerous. Why say ad nauseam that he holds BP responsible? He resembles a judge who, having sentenced a penitent offender, demands again and again that he be brought up from the cells to receive another dressing down for the same crime.

When he flew to Louisiana on May 3 to see things for himself, Mr Obama was eager to pin all the blame on BP, though the company had already admitted responsibility.

'BP is responsible for this leak and BP will pay,' he declared. This has become a regular refrain. Ten days later, on May 13, he laid into BP for the 'cosy relationship' it had allegedly enjoyed with regulators in Washington, and he chastised the company and its contractors 'for falling over each other to point the finger of blame at someone else'.

On May 30, he said that he was 'enraged and heartbroken' after BP's latest attempt to staunch the flow had failed. Why 'enraged'?

It was almost as though BP had deliberately failed to find a solution in order to prolong the environmental damage and cock a snook at the President.

Two days ago he instituted an FBI criminal investigation, no less, into the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, promising to ' bring those responsible to justice'.

The effect was to send BP's shares into a new tailspin: they have now fallen by more than a third since the Deepwater Horizon rig caught fire and sank towards the end of April.

One can appreciate Mr Obama's sense of frustration, as well as his political instinct that the best way to deflect criticism from himself is to attack the widely unpopular British company, whose own spin doctors seem curiously inept.

But it is difficult to imagine that the President would have been so remorselessly vituperative had BP been an American oil company such as the even bigger ExxonMobil.

These are different times, of course, but when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker sank off Alaska in 1989, its American owners, Exxon, were not treated like criminals by the U.S. government.

Equally, when the north sea oil rig Piper Alpha exploded in 1988 at the cost of 167 lives, the then Prime Minister, Margaret thatcher, did not inveigh against its American owners.

The President's public evisceration of BP cannot merely be explained by his feelings of impotence or his political predicament. There is an additional factor. BP, after all, stands for British Petroleum.

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.

Most significantly, he reveals - or perhaps I should say 'alleges', since no evidence is produced - that his Kenyan grandfather was tortured by the British authorities during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in the Fifties.

I imagine that if my grandfather had been tortured by, say, the Venezuelans, I might nurse a lingering prejudice against their country, and I do not particularly blame Mr Obama for bearing his grievance. What is undeniable, though, is that it has helped to shape his feelings about Britain.

Unlike his immediate predecessors - Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush - he displays no affection for, or interest in, this country and its history.

When he entered the Oval office, he immediately returned a bust of Winston Churchill that had been loaned to George W. Bush by the British government.

Mr Obama's administration has been notably cool towards Britain. For example, during the recent stand-off between Britain and Argentina over oil rights around the Falkland islands, the U.S. was at best neutral, at worst pro-Argentine, whereas during the Falklands War it had been strongly supportive of this country.

It is true that BP is a private company with many foreign investors, and has no direct relationship with the British government. But it was, until its recent tribulations, Britain's largest company, and its fortunes affect millions of British investors and pensioners.

A takeover of a depleted and weakened BP by an American rival such as ExxonMobil would have serious consequences for the British economy.

All that can be said with confidence is that the President's invective against BP is not helping the company, and is therefore potentially damaging to the United Kingdom. I can't imagine David Cameron or nice Nick Clegg picking on a U.S. oil company whose tanker had inadvertently dumped millions of barrels of oil on British shores.

Moreover, listening to Mr Obama one might think that BP had instructed its contractors to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico without bothering to consult the U.S. government.

The same President who last week ordered a halt to exploratory deep water drilling in the Gulf proposed opening up 167 million acres to offshore oil exploration only three weeks before the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

A little more presidential humility would be in order and, more than that, a greater sense of statesmanship and more feeling for a close ally.

No one doubts that BP has a serious case to answer, and extensive reparations to make, but it does not fol low that its executives should be treated as common criminals, or that the company should be hammered into the ground.

Whatever Mr Obama may think of Britain in historical terms, this country remains America's most loyal ally, paying with the blood of hundreds of its young men in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is not Chinese or Japanese or, for the most part, French and German soldiers who stand alongside Americans in Afghanistan, but British ones.

While for all his many faults George W. Bush was often publicly appreciative of Britain's role as America's most hands-on ally, President Obama can scarcely bring himsel f to acknowledge this country's sacrifice in Afghanistan which, in terms of lives lost, is proportionately greater than that of the United States.

Presidents come and go, and nothing, I hope, will undo the ties that bind these two countries.

Barack Obama is nonetheless well on the way to souring a relationship that over the past hundred years has brought huge benefit to the civilised world, and I hope the next time he opens his mouth to castigate BP he will remember that this is a company that matters a great deal to Great Britain.