Antique dealers have failed in an attempt to overturn a total ban on ivory trading being introduced by the government after the high court ruled that the legislation did not breach European law.

Conservation groups, who argued that any dilution of the ban would revitalise illegal elephant poaching, welcomed the decision, which they said would preserve the UK’s position as a world leader in the fight against the ivory trade.

Last month, a small number of antique dealers challenged the ban in the high court, arguing that sales of “cultural heritage” objects have no impact on the market for illegally plundered tusks.

The 2018 Ivory Act, which attracted cross-party support, has yet to come into force. It criminalises trade in all ivory artefacts with a few artistic exemptions. The prohibition was championed by the former environment secretary Michael Gove, who pledged to introduce “one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations”.

The high court claim was brought in the name of a newly formed company, Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures (Fact), but funds are being channelled via the British Antique Dealers’ Association (Bada). The dealers also say the ban undermines the European convention on human rights by interfering with individuals’ property rights.

Responding to the judgment, Mary Rice, the chief executive of the Environmental Investigation Agency, (EIA), said: “This is a victory for common sense and one which maintains the UK’s position as a global leader when it comes to fighting the illegal ivory trade.”

The EIA is part of a coalition of 11 conservation organisations that supported the Ivory Act, arguing that any legal trade in ivory provides cover for the illegal trade because it is difficult to distinguish between antique and newly carved ivory. The UK is one of the world’s leading exporters of antique ivory, particularly to China and Hong Kong.

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The European commission is considering further restrictions on ivory trade across the European Union, based in part on the UK’s Ivory Act. Other countries, such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, have introduced, or are considering, similar legislation also based on the UK’s lead.

John Stephenson, the chief executive of Stop Ivory, said: “Challenges to the new legislation fly in the face of British public opinion, which increasingly puts the conservation of nature before profit. We hope that’s the end of the matter and that the government can get on with implementing the act, without further distractions.”

Conservationists estimate that 55 African elephants are poached every day, which they say is an unsustainable rate of loss. David Cowdrey, the head of policy and campaigns at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “We are delighted to hear that the high court has rejected the antiques lobby’s bid to overturn the Ivory Act. It is a fantastic day for elephants, and for everyone that has fought so hard to make the UK’s ivory ban one of the toughest in the world.”



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