May 2, 2022 - World

Boris Johnson's scandals loom over key local elections

Photo: Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Boris Johnson won't be on the ballot when British voters go to the polls for local elections on Thursday, but his party's performance could determine whether he survives the summer in Downing Street.

Why it matters: Johnson's reputation as an election winner, bolstered by his landslide general election victory in 2019, has helped Conservative Party members overlook a string of personal scandals.

  • Many Conservative MPs are now waiting for the voters' verdict on Thursday before deciding whether to move to oust him over lockdown-breaking parties at his residence, which made him the first sitting prime minister to be fined by the police.

The big picture: Thousands of council seats, mayoralties and other local offices will be up for grabs in Scotland, Wales and parts of England, including in the Labour heartlands that flipped to the Conservatives in 2019 as Johnson promised he'd "get Brexit done."

  • With Johnson's approval rating down to 29% and the cost of living rising precipitously, some of those areas could flip back.
  • Johnson's allies are preparing for significant losses, but arguing that his leadership is needed on Ukraine and that a war — even one in which the U.K. isn't fighting — is no time to replace a prime minister.

Zoom out: In Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin — which advocates unification with the Republic of Ireland — is likely to win the most seats in the national assembly for the first time.

  • That won't spell the end of Northern Ireland's membership in the U.K. — at least not yet — but it would be a historic shift with significant implications for how the Irish border operates in the post-Brexit era.
  • The Good Friday agreement mandates power-sharing between unionists and republicans, but the long-dominant Democratic Unionist Party could refuse to form a government with Sinn Féin at the helm.
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