Brexit: Is Boris Johnson profiting from dividing?

Boris Johnson Image copyright AFP/Getty Images

Not even a couple of months have passed, but it seems a lifetime since Boris Johnson said he wanted to bring the country together as he arrived in Downing Street as prime minister for the first time.

Because so far his time in No 10 has suggested he believes he will profit instead from a divide.

That's the crack that his team identifies between leavers and former remainers - described by one cabinet minister, as "those who either want to get things done that matter to people, or MPs who want to stand up and repeat ad nauseam the things they have been saying about Brexit for the last three years".

The "dividing line", is far from a new phenomenon in politics - it was beloved by Gordon Brown, then George Osborne too - maybe politicians since time began - a way of creating an easily understandable political choice for the public, a way for politicians to say "pick us or them".

But it's not just a line this time, it's like a toxic separation.

Reading this you may believe, damn right, it's about time that all this political agony was brought to an end.

And let's face it, as one MP pointed out tonight, the public don't exactly hold the political class in high esteem - politicians pushing the rules?

Tell me something I don't know!

More talking in Parliament is plainly not, on its own, going to find the magic solution to this grinding Brexit crisis.

This is Downing Street's fundamental gamble, that in the end, most of the public are in the camp of the fed up and frustrated, who just want this to be over, and therefore they will tolerate a few prime ministerial bumps and scrapes along the way.

And that's why, shocking though it may sound given No 10 has today been found to have misled the monarch and broken the law, in Downing Street, today's result is not entirely seen as bad thing, giving - as some of those close to the PM see it - yet more evidence of the "establishment" trying to stand in the way of allowing Brexit to happen.

Nor is it surprising to many in the government that this mess has already ended up in the courts.

Under Theresa May perhaps the resolution of Brexit was a conflict delayed, rather than avoided.

Indeed, for Boris Johnson's team, it's almost perhaps as if this is a script they wrote long ago.

Throughout the Vote Leave campaign the approach was consistent - if the controversial things they claimed were challenged, their answer was not to demur, but to double down.

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Media captionKwasi Kwateng: "Many people are saying judges are biased"

The parallels are already there. Listening to government minister Kwasi Kwarteng suggest tonight that independent judges doing their jobs are "interfering" tells us that - even though he used a classic political technique of saying he was only articulating what others were saying.

When you listen to it remember that in this country, while it's not unusual for the courts to rule on cases relating to government business, we have an independent courts system traditionally and vitally free from political interference.

There's been a sense from day one this is a campaign to get Brexit done, rather than a traditional administration.

But the problems stacking up cannot just be dismissed as campaign upsets to be blasted away with brass neck.

Government is not a campaign where screaming headlines and binary arguments jostle with each other over a period of a couple of months.

With no majority, the prime minister cannot simply dismiss MPs' concerns for more than a short period of time - a government that can't win votes is a government that can't last for long.

With Scotland's senior judges ruling Downing Street's behaviour broke the law, the prime minister may also soon have to reverse his decision on suspending Parliament - that depends on what the legal brains at the UK Supreme Court will conclude on Tuesday.

Even though these challenges might in the end play into No 10's political narrative of "us and them", a tangle with the constitution is not a minor inconvenience that can just be dismissed.

Those who know Boris Johnson say often that he never really believed the rules applied to him.

But as prime minister, his dreaded "establishment" will constrain him in some ways.

And some old allies, who are not in the No 10 inner circle, are frankly furious that he has chosen to take such a confrontational path.

Ruthlessness in politics can be an attribute - any political leader who's ultimately succeeded has likely shown that.

Perhaps Boris Johnson will perform a Houdini-like escape, get an EU deal and go on to govern successfully, stitching his angry and febrile party together - who knows, maybe then even winning an election?

But ruthlessness can tip in to recklessness too that could damage not just Mr Johnson's interests, not just the Tories' wider interests, but much more widely, push the two sides in our national debate further apart.

The prime minister and some of his team might revel in pushing the rules.

They have made a clear decision about taking a controversial strategy, which could ultimately be successful, from which they won't be diverted.

But there are powerful ministers in cabinet with concerns, as well as MPs in the Tory Party and the opposition.

And ultimately of course, sooner or later, it's the public who will judge.

Boris Johnson once joked about his own political style, suggesting he may sometimes take some plaster off the ceiling.

But pushing the boundaries of convention in Parliament, with the palace and perhaps the judiciary, risks bringing the whole house down too.

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