The UK and Irish governments have committed to continue with the ongoing political talks at Stormont today despite the failure to reach a significant agreement on Thursday.
However, the negotiations were overshadowed last night by a claim that Prime Minister David Cameron left the talks at a potentially crucial stage last Friday to attend a birthday bash for his wife at his Buckinghamshire manor house.
When asked if the PM had left Belfast early in order to be home in time for the star-studded event, a Downing Street spokesman said: “You know the reason why the Prime Minister and Taoiseach, who were jointly at these talks, made the statement they did jointly about why agreement wouldn’t be possible.”
The spokesman confirmed that Mr Cameron paid for the lavish birthday party for wife Samantha at his Chequers country residence.
The Daily Mail reported that the bash at the Buckinghamshire manor house was a “belated 40th birthday party” for Mrs Cameron, who is 43.
The event took place on the evening of the day when Mr Cameron cut short talks at Stormont after agreeing with Taoiseach Enda Kenny that conclusions would not be reached over the Northern Ireland Executive’s budget and wrangles over flags and parades.
Among guests treated to “cocktails and curry” and a dance music set by former Kiss FM DJ Sarah HB were broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson, actress Helena Bonham Carter, comedian Harry Enfield, designer Karen Millen and Radio 4 Today programme presenter Sarah Montague, said the paper.
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis said: “I have no problem with David Cameron attending a family celebration. However, his unwillingness to remain in Northern Ireland for a longer period in order to broker progress caused serious concern at the time.
“He now has serious questions to answer about whether he was less than truthful about his reasons for an abrupt departure, which made an already fraught situation worse.”
On Thursday night, Irish foreign minister Charlie Flanagan said: “The Irish government remains committed to a successful conclusion to this talks process and to securing a comprehensive agreement acceptable to all parties.”