DAVID Cameron has been accused of playing into the hands of the SNP by refusing to devolve corporation tax to Northern Ireland in the near future.

No 10 described the Prime Minister's meeting with Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland's First Minister, and Martin McGuinness, his deputy, yesterday as constructive.

However, they emerged expressing disappointment that Mr Cameron had made clear there would be no decision on devolving corporation tax to Stormont until after the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

Mr McGuinness said: "It's very, very clear from the meeting that the whole issue of the referendum in Scotland is playing in big time to this debate on corporation tax.

"It is absolutely clear that no decision will be taken on this issue this side of the Scottish referendum; we have to face that reality."

Mr Robinson said he had told the Prime Minister: "What, effectively, you are saying to the people of Scotland is that if you want more fiscal autonomy than you have at the present time, the only way to have it is through independence.

"That is the wrong message for the Government to be giving to the people of Scotland."

His Democratic Unionist colleague, Sammy Wilson, insisted a strong case had been made to Mr Cameron to devolve corporation tax and that it was a means of achieving what he wanted – a rebalancing of the economy away from the public sector towards the private sector.

The East Antrim MP said: "The Government could have used this to show that devolution was flexible enough, that where a case was made for additional powers for devolution, the Government was prepared to listen and devolve more powers.

"The SNP would have had its case undermined in so far as the Government could have shown that devolution was flexible enough to show we do not need independence."

Mr Wilson pointed out how the SNP could use the Prime Minister's response "in a perverse way against the Government, saying Northern Ireland made a good case for devolved powers and you refused them. If that's the way, then is there any alternative to full independence?"

A senior Whitehall insider dismissed the DUP's argument, saying: "It falls apart in light of the Scotland Act 2012, which is the biggest transfer of powers for 300 years. This shows our commitment to devolution."

Yet Stewart Hosie, the SNP's Treasury spokesman, accused Mr Cameron of a "monumental misjudgement", saying: "In relation to the DUP responses, it is absolutely clear independence is the only route now open for the devolution of any substantive powers to Scotland."

The political parties in Northern Ireland and the local business community are united in wanting corporation tax devolved so it can be drastically reduced from the current 24% to 12.5% so the province can compete with the Irish Republic, which has this very low rate.

However, recent signs from Whitehall have been pointing away from a quick decision to devolve.

In January, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister said the proponents of devolving the tax had made a powerful case.

However, he added that it was difficult for the Coalition because of the "knock-on effects that it might have in other parts of the United Kingdom as the debate on devolution reaches a crescendo in the referendum in Scotland in 2014".

Chancellor George Osborne announced in the Budget that corporation tax for the UK would be cut in April 2015 to 20% – the same level the SNP Government wants it to be in an independent Scotland.