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When contacted by ATG, a spokesman for the British Museum said: “We support any efforts to protect elephants and to curb the illegal trade and export of ivory, but we are also clear that this should not include antique ivory works of art.

“There is no public benefit in restricting the display or movement of ivory works of art made before 1947 and legislation should not extend to cover actions carried out before that date.”

The V&A also defended the trade and said it will still consider acquiring “objects dating prior to 1947 featuring or made from ivory where there is a strong link to the collection and within relevant regulations and guidelines”.

Also contacted by ATG, dealer Philip Mould, TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh, historian David Starkey and former English Heritage chief executive Simon Thurley defended the right to own and trade historic artefacts containing ivory.

“We want to stop the slaughter of elephants but some of the greatest artworks in the world contain ivory. We need to have guarantees that pre- 1947 ivory can be traded, ” said Thurley.

The quotes given to ATG last week are published in full on page 4.

In a three-hour debate in parliament on February 6, a number of MPs asked the government to implement a total ban on trading ivory.

North Shrophire MP Owen Paterson, a former environment secretary, said: “Do not tell me that we are going to bring the antiques trade to its knees if we limit the trade in items containing ivory in a measured and sensible manner.”

But the call for an uncompromising approach was not universal.

Junior environment minister Therese Coffey warned against taking “symbolic action” in the pursuit of the “shared goal of ending poaching and saving elephants”.

“The kind of assessment we will need to make is how prohibiting the sale of a 17th century ivory carving would prevent the poaching of elephants today, ” she said. “We must make sure our rules are robust and proportionate and will achieve the aim of ending the poaching of elephants.”

South Antrim MP Danny Kinahan and Kensington & Chelsea MP Victoria Borwick were among those MPs at the debate who spoke up for museums and antiques dealers who own and sell antiques containing ivory.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has yet to give a specific date for its consultation survey, but said it will be “published shortly”.