Andrew Boff, the Leader of the Conservative Group in the Greater London Assembly, has defended London Mayor Boris Johnson from criticism over a controversial joke he made about gay men taking their husbands up the “Arcelor” on their wedding day.

Speaking last Tuesday at a £250 a head Pride gala dinner at Claridge’s, in Mayfair, central London, Mr Johnson mentioned that “gay men and women in this city” will be able to get married by the autumn, once the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is signed into law.

Mr Johnson jokingly suggested in his speech that they should get married at “the absolutely beautiful ArcelorMittal Orbit.”

He then added: “It will be the perfect ceremony; you can take your partner up the [Arcelor]. I think I can get away with that.”

The ArcelorMittal Orbit is the striking red sculpture in London’s Olympic Park.

Several guests walked out on hearing the remarks – although many people laughed at the joke.

Representing an absent Mr Johnson at yesterday’s central London Pride parade, Conservative Assembly Member Andrew Boff told PinkNews.co.uk: “As I understand it, it was a gala dinner, he was doing an after dinner speech, [and in] an after dinner speech you crack jokes… Now there was a group of people there who were waiting to be outraged at something and he gave them that opportunity to be outraged [to] get up and storm off in a sort of a hissy fit that we can all recognise.

“The fact of the matter is everyone apart from a small minority enjoyed his contribution, the positive way in which he talked about Pride and the fact is, this year, everybody is onboard with this event.”

“He’s not here today, however he has been very supportive of the event as you know he attended the gala dinner the other day which raised a considerable amount of money for Pride to make it a sustainable event that we needed – but let’s not forget what Pride is about – Pride is about the community and representatives of all shades of the LGBT+ community coming together, it’s not about the Mayor of London.”

When asked for the reason of Mr Johnson’s absence, after a pause, Mr Boff said to PinkNews.co.uk: “He is a busy man you know but he’s committed himself to supporting this event [and] for the first time we have got five years of a stable financial programme for this event, we shouldn’t forget that. Last year the Mayor of London rescued Pride – this year it’s got a really optimistic and bold future, and that’s all down to the funding package that he has put in place with the support of the London Assembly.”  

Labour MPs Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, and Chris Bryant, the Shadow Immigration Minister, were both seen at the front of the parade.

Asked to comment on Mr Johnson’s absence, Ms Cooper told PinkNews.co.uk: “I don’t think this is obviously a party political event today because obviously you’ve got people from all parties here supporting it, I think [former Labour Mayor] Ken Livingstone was always a strong supporter but obviously I think Boris has shown support as well.”      

Jonathan Simpson, the Borough of Camden’s first openly gay civic mayor, said to PinkNews.co.uk: “I think it’s absolutely fantastic, the atmosphere here is absolutely brilliant and I am incredibly proud to be here with the Mayor of Lambeth just representing our boroughs. I think we are the two boroughs with probably the largest gay populations in the country and I think combined community-wise we have more than all the major cities across Europe.”

He added: “It’s just a really, really love event, I am so proud today being a gay man, being the first representative of the borough and being able to be here.”