The insult is alleged to have been made during a Commons debate in June last year, which was filmed as part of Michael Cockerell’s BBC documentary Inside the Commons but left out of the final edit.
A publicist for the production company emailed journalists before it aired, claiming that Soubry had sworn, but the footage contained in the preview never appeared in the programme, aired on BBC2 on Tuesday evening.
On Tuesday, when the Daily Mail contacted Soubry shortly before the documentary was broadcast to ask whether she had called Miliband a “sanctimonious cunt”, the senior Conservative strongly denied ever having used the term and threatened to sue the paper .
“I would never use that word and I would never use it in the House of Commons and I would certainly never use it … I’m not having that,” Soubry said. “I can absolutely assure you I have never used language like that and I can equally assure you on the back row … we wouldn’t think of shouting a word like that, the foulest word.”
The MP for the highly marginal seat of Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, later told the Nottingham Post: “Look, I’m not going to say anything more than this. This is a word I do not use. People do not use foul language in the House of Commons chamber, they just don’t do it and I don’t either.
“I assure you that I have never used that word in the chamber, that’s the end of it. We might be loud but we don’t use foul language.”
Later on Wednesday, after BuzzFeed had posted a Vine video of the footage of Soubry, she told the Post: “If you go on Twitter, you will hear the unedited version of what I really said and it’s clear I said ‘sanctimonious rubbish’.”
Labour inflamed the row by calling on Soubry to apologise. Asked what the party thought about Miliband being insulted in such a manner from the Tory benches, a senior aide said: “It is unacceptable language to be used by a minister. It shows the Conservatives do not understand the need to restore trust in politics. She should apologise.”
Asked whether the party was convinced that Soubry said the words, he added: “It seems clear this is unacceptable language.”
Soubry has a reputation for plain talking, having once had to apologise for saying Nigel Farage “looks like somebody has put their finger up his bottom”. She has previously warned her Tory colleagues not to engage in “twattery” when it comes to plotting against the prime minister and suggested she was given a job as public health minister as it was a “soft bloody girly option”.
The BBC is standing by its decision to edit out the alleged obscenity. In one shot, Soubry can be seen shouting something, but it is not clear what because of all the noise from other MPs in the chamber. In the preview, according to the Daily Mail, a comment that sounded like “sanctimonious cunt” can be heard.
Cockerell also narrated the series and in the preview he tells viewers, immediately before the fleeting shot of Soubry: “Official television coverage, even though it is heavily restricted, has fuelled public antagonism to MPs.
But our cameras have witnessed the unsanitised version, in which MPs sometimes use the most offensive language.”
However, in the final version that was broadcast the comment cannot be heard and Cockerell says: “Public attitudes to MPs have been shaped by official coverage of the Commons.
But our cameras have had unrestricted access and showed behaviour to be even rougher than is normally seen.”
The Guardian understands that the alleged offensive language was removed because it was difficult to hear what it actually was amid the heckling and shouting.
In addition, under BBC editorial guidelines the word can only be broadcast in the most extreme circumstances.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC and the programme-makers had complete control over all editorial decisions. Changes are often made to programmes for editorial reasons in the lead-up to broadcast, as was the case with this episode, but we did not receive any external pressure.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, and Tara Conlan, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 25th February 2015 16.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010