Wanted: A Gerald Nabarro to kill import tariffs

Sir Gerald Nabarro was a splendid figure. An immaculate dresser with a huge handlebar moustache, his three Rolls Royces were numbered NAB 1, NAB2 and NAB3. He appeared at every budget day, when such things mattered, in morning suit with top hat.

He killed the Purchase Tax by a series of relentless questions over the years: “Why was a budgie mirror with a bell taxed at a lower rate than one without a bell? Why was a 10-foot ladder taxed at a lower rate than a 12-foot one?"

My grandmother’s mantelpiece had two identical flower vases. The one marked “celery” on the base was 25% cheaper (essential) than the one that did not (luxury). Sir Gerald made the lives of successive chancellors such a misery that they eventually gave up and abolished it. We need someone to do the same for the Trump tariffs.

If we are to be silly enough to compile lists of those goods we choose to make more expensive for our customers, we need someone with Sir Gerald’s style and stamina to ridicule them. Step forward a backbencher looking to make a name for herself (or himself) with relentless questioning to expose the absurd and arbitrary nature of tariffs. Why are jeans with famous squiggles on the back pockets subjected to a higher tariff than those that do not? Why are bourbon whiskeys in the top ten of popular brands taxes at 35% more than the others?

I am sure that an army of unpaid volunteers would supply our backbencher with reams of examples with which to bombard hapless trade ministers. Eventually, as with the purchase tax, they might just throw in the towel (assuming it is not made prohibitively expensive as an import luxury).

There would be no money in this, and maybe no ministerial promotion, but there might be a knighthood, innumerable appearances on media shows, and the thanks of a grateful nation. Would a latter-day Sir Gerald kindly step up to the plate…