UK Government is 'losing ground' by not closing domestic ivory markets

Posted: Feb 7

There was disappointment in the Houses of Parliament yesterday, when the Environment Minister Therese Coffey failed to set a timeline for the Government’s consultation on the closure of the UK’s domestic ivory markets.

The debate in Westminster Hall was triggered when the petition calling on the Government to “Shut down the domestic ivory market in the UK” attracted more than 100,000 signatures. Last September, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom was criticised for not going far enough when she announced plans for a ban on sales of just “modern day” ivory.

An excellent turnout of more than 30 MPs attended the debate, the overwhelming majority of which called on the Government to expand the scope of the upcoming consultation and act urgently to bring in a near total ban on ivory sales.

Opening the debate, Luke Hall MP paid tribute to the work of Tusk and other organisations for highlighting the threat to elephants and other endangered species. He stated that “it is clear that the public support further action, as is demonstrated by more than 107,000 people—2,000 just over the weekend—signing the petition and therefore triggering the debate, which is the second on this subject in two months.”

John Mann MP, who has spoken passionately on the issue before, said that “of all the many issues in front of Parliament today and on other days, if we are incapable of fulfilling our role to protect for continuing generations the species that freely roam this planet alongside us, we have no role as politicians…. It is about time we were bold and said that there should be no half-measures, mixed messages, little promises or small steps forwards. A total ban is what I want.”

Pauline Latham MP stated that “bringing about a ban will do three major things: it will stop the poaching, trafficking and buying of ivory…. It is clear that the sale of antique ivory in the UK provides a false veneer of legality for black markets across the world, because most people cannot tell the difference…. This is not about politics, but about saving elephants and we do have to take that lead.”

In his address, former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson quoted the London Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade that came from the international conference in 2014, which he had helped engineer. On reducing demand, one of the actions agreed to at the conference was to “Support, and where appropriate undertake, effectively targeted actions to eradicate demand and supply for illegal wildlife products”, to which he added “and that means us!”. He claimed that “we’re losing ground” and have “lost the leadership” on the illegal wildlife trade since other countries – and especially China – have announced plans to close their markets. Mr Paterson calculated that 12,768 elephants had been killed since the Government’s announcement in September, and yet there was still no timeline for the consultation.

Sadly, in spite of overwhelming cross party support from MP's and more than 85% of public wishing the Govt to move rapidly to close UK Ivory trade, Ms Coffey’s response was that the consultation would begin “shortly” and that she “really hope[s] it will be as soon as possible”. However, she did at least confirm that the consultation would consider the options for closing markets for all ivory, and not just modern day ivory. She also outlined the other extensive action that the British Government continues to take to prevent illegal wildlife trade.

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