Opik helped Cheeky Girl beat threat of deportation

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Indy Politics

The Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik faces fresh embarrassment over his relationship with the Cheeky Girl singer Gabriela Irimia after it emerged that he helped her campaign to avoid deportation.

The Liberal Democrat frontbencher spoke to the Immigration minister, Liam Byrne, and asked a Labour MP to help the 24-year-old avoid being returned to her native Romania.

His intervention is revealed just days after Mr Opik's former fiancée, the ITV weather presenter Sian Lloyd, publicly broke off their six-year relationship citing his affair with the singer.

The Cheeky Girls, Gabriela Irimia and her twin sister Monica, have worked in Britain since 2001, but were reported to have been threatened with deportation in August. The duo have recorded a series of singles, including the hit "Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)"; "Hooray Hooray (It's a Cheeky Holiday)"; "Take Your Shoes Off" and "Have a Cheeky Christmas".

Mr Opik, the party's Northern Ireland spokesman, was a staunch supporter of the party's former leader, Charles Kennedy, and was the only public backer of Mark Oaten's abortive leadership campaign.

Senior Liberal Democrats confirmed yesterday that Mr Opik, 41, who met Gabriela at Channel Five's All-Star Talent Show two months ago, had intervened in the case but said he had "acted with total propriety". A party spokesman said: "He passed on information about their immigration status to the MP who covers their constituency, Michael J Foster.

"Later he mentioned to Liam Byrne in a corridor that he had passed the case on to Michael Foster, and reiterated that he knew them in a personal capacity.

"The only other representations were made by Michael Foster as their constituency MP."

The spokesman added: "Lembit acted with total propriety with regard to this matter. He did what any MP would do, and referred the matter to the appropriate Member of Parliament. At no stage did he lobby anybody on this matter, he simply referred the issue through the relevant and proper channels.

"This is absolutely standard practice. This happens hundreds and thousands of times. He's done absolutely nothing wrong."

At present Romanians and Bulgarians have to obtain visas to work in Britain. The two countries become part of the European Union on 1 January, giving nationals the right to move to any EU country including Britain. But Bulgarians and Romanians will still need to obtain permission to work in the UK, and will need to show they work in a highly skilled sector or are filling shortages in the agricultural and food processing sectors.

A Home Office spokeswoman refused to comment on the case.