New legislation will ban the sale of items made from ivory regardless of their age, with only a few narrowly-defined exceptions for instruments, art and historic artefacts.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the new measures would make sure ivory would never again “be seen as a commodity for financial gain or as a status symbol”.
The announcement follows a government consultation, which found 88 per cent of the 70,000 who responded back a ban.
Mr 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.”
Penalties for breaching the ban will include an unlimited fine or up to five years’ jail. Wildlife campaigners believe reducing global demand for ivory is a vital part of efforts to save thousands of elephants killed each year.
Exemptions from the ban have been tightened since the consultation was published. They cover only items comprised of less than 10 per cent ivory by volume and made prior to 1947, and musical instruments with an ivory content of less than 20 per cent and made prior to 1975.
Rare and important items which are at least 100 years old will be assessed by specialists before exemption permits are considered. There will also be a specific exemption for portrait miniatures painted on thin slivers of ivory that are at least a century old.
Commercial activities to and between museums accredited by Arts Council England, the Welsh Government, Museums and Galleries Scotland and the Northern Ireland Museums Council in the UK, or the International Council of Museums for museums outside the UK, will also be exempt.
Charlie Mayhew, chief executive of the Tusk Trust, welcomed the “tough” legislation and said the “narrowly defined exemptions are pragmatic”.
“The ban will ensure there is no value for modern day ivory and the tusks of recently poached elephants cannot enter the UK market,” he said.
WWF chief executive Tanya Steele said the ban made the UK a “global leader in tackling this bloody trade”. The US federal ban exempts all items older than 100 years as well as items with up to 50 per cent ivory content. The Chinese ban exempts ivory “relics”, without setting a date before which these must have been produced.