For the oil multinational BP, it was a historic moment – the signing of a joint venture to exploit the vast oil and gas reserves of Russia’s Arctic shelf with the Russian energy giant Rosneft. The deal was worth £10bn in share swaps.
The chief executive of Rosneft, Igor Sechin – then Russian deputy prime minister, key Putin ally and one of the most forbidding characters in the world of oil – would be coming to London to seal the agreement. Rosneft is majority owned by the Russian state, and BP urgently needed a senior British government figure to mark the alliance.
So, the night before the signing in January 2011, BP’s managing director Iain Conn picked up the phone to the then secretary of state for energy and climate change, Chris Huhne. It was awkward, for Huhne had a long-standing engagement – to give a speech at a Liberal Democrat dinner on the Isle of Wight to an audience that would include key representatives of the island’s renewable energy industry. There was, though, only ever going to be one winner.