BP chief Tony Hayward meets board to discuss his exit strategy

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The Independent Online

Tony Hayward was last night negotiating the terms of his departure as chief executive of BP, bowing to the inevitable after months of intense criticism for his disastrous handling of the oil spill in Gulf of Mexico.

Almost two months after President Barack Obama said he would already have fired Mr Hayward for his inept public response to the spill, BP's board has settled on the same view and will meet today to discuss their handover to a new leader.

The decision will be cheered in the US, where Mr Hayward has never been forgiven for saying, at a press conference early in the disaster, that "there's no one who wants this over more than I do, I would like my life back". His departure was said last night to be a mutual decision.

The BP board, led by its chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, must now navigate one additional public relations issue, namely the financial terms of Mr Hayward's departure. He could be entitled to a pay-off of at least £1m, based on a compensation package – including salary and bonuses – that was worth £3.2m last year. He is also due an annual pension of £584,000, according to the company's annual report. The details could be announced as early as tomorrow when BP is scheduled to report its latest financial results, which will also include provisions of $30m to pay for the costs of stopping, cleaning up and compensating the victims of the world's worst-ever oil spill. But it is possible that Mr Hayward may not depart immediately.

One plan under discussion would delay his resignation as chief executive until 1 October to allow a smoother transition to a successor, which is likely to be the American Bob Dudley, who was put in day-to-day charge of the oil spill response two months ago. Mr Hayward could remain on the BP board until the end of the year.

Talks over Mr Hayward's departure come as BP finally gets to grips with the oil spill which began with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig on 20 April. A relief well designed to shut off the well once and for all could be in place within a week, it was announced yesterday.

Efforts resumed after they were halted by tropical storm Bonnie, which forced the evacuation of ships from the area. Last night, a drill rig was expected to reconnect to the relief tunnel that will be used to pump in mud and cement to seal the well. A temporary cap has prevented the escape of oil for the last nine days.

The US government's disaster response chief, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said officials will spend the next day determining how the small storm affected the area and the location of the massive slick.

A 28-year veteran of BP, Mr Hayward took over the top job in 2007, promising to improve safety standards at the company after a string of disasters, including a spill in Alaska and a refinery explosion in Texas that killed 15 employees. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill, though, eclipses those other disasters, and has opened BP up to sustained criticism of its safety procedures.

While BP suffered repeated failures in its early attempts to plug the gushing well and was condemned for not doing enough to speed up clean-up work, Mr Hayward made matters worse with a series of public relations gaffes. He was pictured taking part in a sailing race in the UK at the height of the spill, and then gave what lawmakers derided as an obstructive and ineffectual performance in front of a Senate hearing into the disaster. The tabloid New York Daily News dubbed him "the most hated and most clueless man in America".

And last month, even while defending his chief executive, Mr Svanberg admitted: "Tony has made remarks that have upset people."

Mr Dudley, a 54-year-old native of the Gulf of Mexico region, has been discussing taking over the top job since travelling to London last week to update the board on the likely costs of the disaster to BP.