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Time is running out for Remainer MPs who want to prevent a hard Brexit

There is a large majority within the parliamentary Labour Party for a drastic breach with the EU.

It was a tale of two votes last night. The first didn't happen – the government retreated over reproductive rights rather than be defeated on Stella Creasy's amendment, meaning Northern Irish women who travel to England to access an abortion will receive NHS funding.

The second was a thumping endorsement of the government's EU exit strategy – just 101 MPs voted for Chuka Umunna's amendment regretting that the government had not set out plans to remain in the customs union or the single market. A mere 49 Labour MPs joined the rebellion after the party's leadership ordered them to abstain – with even some of those who had seconded the amendment falling in line, though four shadow ministers lost their jobs rather than follow the whip.

Why did one amendment succeed and the other fail? One red herring is the Euroscepticism of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader. Corbyn is a Eurosceptic of long vintage, of course, but Theresa May has a history of voting to limit reproductive rights, and that didn't stop her opponents getting their way yesterday.

The truth is that – just as with the Article 50 vote last year – Corbyn's decision probably changed a handful of votes either way. Left to their own devices, Diane Abbott and Barry Gardiner, plus perhaps another 20 or so backbenchers, would have voted for the amendment.

But as it stands, a far bigger rebellion would have gone the other way. Whether through conviction that Britain does need to get its immigration under control (Caroline Flint, Stephen Kinnock), the belief that the referendum was a de facto one on border control so, like it or not, that must happen (Jonathan Reynolds, Emma Reynolds) or a belief that Labour must toughen its policy on immigration to win an election (Yvette Cooper, Tom Watson), there is, at present, a large majority within the PLP for a drastic breach with the European Union.

That doesn't mean that Britain's single market membership is doomed. That the 49 Labour MPs who voted on Umunna's amendment span the breadth of the party, from Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad on one end to Alison McGovern on the other, shows that Labour's single marketers have the potential, at least, to unify and convince much of the PLP.

They have the added benefit, too, that most party members are pro-EU, and most of the trade unions are in favour of retaining single market membership. 

So why can't they make a breakthrough? Again, it comes back to another difference between Creasy's amendment and Umunna's: the organisational backdrop. The reason why the government knew it had to retreat over abortion is that pro-choice women MPs have honed and shown their organisational power in resisting the increasingly nimble pro-life lobby. And although yesterday's vote came down to numbers, earlier alliances of that cross-party group have come down to persuasion: on why, for example, an amendment notionally sold as limiting sex-selective abortion would de facto limit all abortions. 

Remainers in the Commons – not just Labour but Conservative ones as well – are still struggling to organise and exert themselves. Last night's vote couldn't even pull in all the Labour MPs who believe that, as McGovern put it last weekend, "there is no better anti-austerity policy than remaining in the single market". The timing of the move even managed to earn a public rebuke from Unison's general secretary, Dave Prentis, though note that he highlighted that the European question remains an ongoing issue.

There is a deal that keeps Britain in the single market but allows some kind of deal on free movement – it involves remaining subject to the European Court of Justice but not being able to influence it, and paying a larger net contribution to the EU budget than we do now. That deal might be able to command a majority vote in the Commons, albeit only with a large Conservative rebellion, and a great deal of persuasion from Remainer Labour MPs to their more nervous colleagues. 

But time is running out for Parliament's Remainers to learn the organisational lessons of pro-choice MPs. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.