By Dan O’Donoghue, Press Association Political Staff
Mr Gardiner urged the Government to “strongly respond” after US President Donald Trump signed off on a 25% levy on imported steel.
Mr Trump had originally imposed the tariffs in March, saying a reliance on imported metals threatened national security.
But he exempted Canada, Mexico and the European Union to buy time for negotiations – a reprieve that expired at midnight on Thursday.
The administration’s actions drew fire from Europe, Canada and Mexico and promises to quickly retaliate against US exports.
Mr Gardiner, speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, said: “The president has said that he believes he could win a trade war, we think that a trade war is in nobody’s interests.”
He added: “We believe in a rules-based system, a multilateral system, President Trump doesn’t and we must understand that. He wants to break up that system.
“We have to respond strongly to it and make it clear to him that we’re not susceptible to the intimidation and the threats and the bullying that he’s putting in place.”
Former trade minister Francis Maude, now Lord Maude of Horsham, condemned the tariffs as “stupid and counterproductive”.
The Tory peer, speaking on the Today programme, urged the Government and the EU not to embark on a “tit-for-tat” policy and instead stick “robustly to free trade”.
He said: “I think the proper reaction is first of all to say this is stupid, it’s counterproductive, that any government that embarks on a protectionist path inflicts the most damage on itself.
“The inevitable result of putting these tariffs on imports will be to increase prices on consumer goods for its own citizens.”
He added: “You can’t have this thing that we see them doing something that’s stupid and unreasonable and therefore we do something stupid and unreasonable ourselves.”
German MEP Bernd Lange, who chairs the European Union’s international trade committee, has said the tariffs are “illegal” and insisted the EU would “make some countermeasures, no doubt about”.
Mr Lange said he would like to see tariffs imposed on “symbolic” US products such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
He said: “We chose also some symbolic products like Harley-Davidson to make clear here is a red card.”
Former White House press secretary Anthony Scaramucci, also speaking to Radio 4, said with Mr Trump there was “always room for negotiation”.
He said: “I am sure that there are chips on both sides that can get traded to make the problem go away.”
Mr Trump had campaigned for president on a promise to crack down on trading partners that he said exploited poorly negotiated trade agreements to run up big trade surpluses with the US.
Pic by Ben Birchall/PA Wire