Mark Steel: I'd like to be taken for lunch by the taxman

You have to congratulate these companies for managing to pull this trick off

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This country must be about to become dazzlingly liberal. Because it's been revealed that the Inland Revenue "negotiated" with big business about their tax bills, often over lunch, and then let them off £25bn. As the Government insists we're all in it together, this must be how they'll deal with everyone now. Menacing clerks with clipboards will knock on a door and say, "We have photographic evidence you've been working on a building site while claiming social security. Game's up, sonny, it's time you answered some questions.

"To start with, do you like fish because there's a wonderful new restaurant with a fascinating menu by the river and we'd be delighted if you could come to discuss your fraudulent benefits and you simply MUST bring the couple next door that pretend they're not co-habiting so we can knock around some figures and clear this up. Ciao."

A BBC reporter explained that the tax office couldn't be blamed for settling at the amounts it did, because the companies have lawyers who might have disputed a higher amount, so at least this way the tax office gets something. This is a novel attitude towards economics, and means there will be no more tax forms full of complicated questions. Instead the form will just go, "Have you got a good lawyer? If yes, go to question 2", which will say, "How much do you fancy paying, if anything?" So the whole system will be much more concise and easier for everyone.

The entire economy could be re-ordered in this way. You'll be able to walk into Sainsbury's with a lawyer, wheel out a loaded trolley, chuck them a fiver and they'll be delighted to have got that much so everyone's happy.

You have to congratulate these companies for pulling this trick off. Usually, the Department of Work and Pensions takes no excuses, no matter how forlorn, so Goldman Sachs must have come over as REALLY desperate. I expect the managing director said that they're really sorry but his salary wasn't due for three days and he'd run out of cash so he's been walking nine miles to a well for water but met a leper on the way so dipped into the 14 million put by for tax to get him some antiseptic cream and he's really really sorry.

The best way to measure the scale of this leniency towards big business is to note that the front page of yesterday's Daily Telegraph complained of "Double standards by taxman" and the Daily Mail screamed, "Big firms let off £25 BN in taxes". When you've forced those two to yell that businesses should pay more tax, it's like being on a night out with Charlie Sheen and he says to you, "I'm going home, you're just going over the top now."

And this is all for our benefit, because we have to be prepared to pay the global market rate for thieving bastards, otherwise they'll leave the country and thieve from somewhere else, and THEN where will that leave us?

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