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Senior Tories have lined up to castigate Boris Johnson after it emerged that the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, invited more than 100 aides to “socially distanced drinks” in the Downing Street gardens during the first coronavirus lockdown.

Edward Agar, the health minister, told Sky News he understood how “upset and angry” people must feel about the revelation and that he spent May 2020 “glued to Zoom”.

But former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said that the idea the public should wait for the outcome of Sue Gray’s internal inquiry “won’t survive 48 hours”.

She tweeted: “Nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden. People are (rightly) furious. They sacrificed so much – visiting sick or grieving relatives, funerals. What tf were any of these people thinking?”

Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s former special adviser, described the illicit gathering – which the PM and his wife Carrie Johnson reportedly attended – as “unbelievable…and yet, in another sense, all too believable”.

One government frontbencher told the Guardian last night: “I think this is the worst exposed the prime minister has ever been by these leaks. There’s no explanation, there’s no way to distance himself. His only saviour is if the public has given up caring.”

The PM is facing calls for his resignation, with the Metropolitan Police probing the breach. One MP told the Telegraph that a Scotland Yard probe looks inevitable: “You don’t need Sue Gray to know whether a party took place. I don’t think the Met can afford not to act.”