Michael Gove MP became environment minister in June 2017.

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Environment Secretary Michael Gove confirmed today that the government will bring the law changes into force through primary legislation which means the law could change later this year.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published the response to its consultation on a UK ivory sales ban that closed in December.

The ban will cover ivory items of all ages – not only those produced after a certain date. The maximum available penalty for breaching the ban will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.

The law will allow for a narrow list of exemptions to the ban. These exemptions comprise:

  • Items with only a small amount of ivory in them. Such items must be comprised of less than 10% ivory by volume and have been made prior to 1947.
  • Musical instruments. These must have an ivory content of less than 20% and have been made prior to 1975 (when Asian elephants were added to CITES).
  • Rarest and most important items of their type. Such items must be at least 100 years old and their rarity and importance will be assessed by specialist institutions such as the UK’s most prestigious museums before exemption permits are issued. In addition, there will be a specific exemption for portrait miniatures painted on thin slivers of ivory and which are at least 100 years old.
  • Museums. Commercial activities to, and between, museums which are accredited by Arts Council England, the Welsh Government, Museums and Galleries Scotland or the Northern Ireland Museums Council in the UK, or the International Council of Museums for museums outside the UK.

Defra said that by covering ivory items of all ages and adopting this narrow set of exemptions, the UK’s ban will be one of the toughest in the world. It said the US federal ban exempts all items older than 100 years as well as items with up to 50% ivory content. The Chinese ban exempts ivory “relics”, without setting a date before which these must have been produced.

Gove said: "The ban on ivory sales we will bring into law will reaffirm the UK’s global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past."

There were more than 70,000 responses to the consultation, with over 88% of responses in favour of the ban.

Anthony Browne, chairman of the British Art Market Federation (BAMF), said that although the ban and its exemptions will mean many antiques containing ivory will no longer be allowed to be traded, the exemptions represent significant protection for many objects such as portrait miniatures. He said the announcement should be viewed in the context that the antiques trade had been faced with "the very real prospect of an unqualified ban. It should be recognised that the NGOs were pressing for this and government was under pressure."

Browne said that details of how the exemptions will work are still being finalised and that government will be updating with further information.

He said BAMF is in discussion with Defra about the detail of the rarest objects exemption. BAMF is also questioning the inconsistency between a 20% ivory rule for musical instruments and a 10% rule for other objects.

ATG’s guide to the UK Ivory Ban