London mayor Boris Johnson says abandoned welfare cuts a mistake

LONDON (REUTERS) - London mayor Boris Johnson, the leading figure in the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, said embattled finance minister George Osborne's now abandoned welfare cuts were a mistake.

Prime Minister David Cameron's ruling Conservative Party, already divided over EU membership, was plunged into chaos over the weekend after a senior minister quit over the cuts to disability benefits known as Personal Independence Payments(PIP).

The resignation of eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith has piled pressure on Cameron and Osborne who are at the forefront of the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU.

"I think I have already said very clearly that the government has decided collectively and quite rightly to take the PIP aspect of it (the budget) and try to sort it out,"Johnson told ITV's "The Agenda" show on Monday. "It's obvious from what's happened that it's admitted that it was a mistake."

Amid embarrassing in-fighting, the government announced on Monday it was abandoning the planned cuts, worth 4.4 billion pounds, and said it did not intend to make any further reductions to the welfare budget.

Duncan Smith's criticism of Osborne, in which he said welfare cuts risked driving a wedge between the rich and the poor, has severely damaged the finance minister's prospects of succeeding Cameron as prime minister when he steps down before the next election in 2020.

A YouGov poll in the Times newspaper on Tuesday found just 17 per cent of voters thought Osborne was doing a good job and only 13 per cent believed he would become prime minister. Johnson is now the bookmakers' favourite to succeed Cameron.