It's another dramatic development in the campaign to end live animal exports from Kent.
A High Court judge has ruled that the RSPCA cannot mount a legal challenge to stop the animals from being transported from Ramsgate. It was seen by opponents as the last chance to block the trade.
And tonight there are also reports that we could soon see the trade extended to the Port of Dover.
For two years now there have been protests here against this trade. The RSPCA wanted a judicial review - an examination of export facilities at the port and an investigation of whether animal welfare safeguards are working.
Exposing animals to long crossings in rough weather was the RSPCA's biggest concern but the judge has said there's no legal justification for such a review, and that means legal challenges to this trade have now almost certainly run out of steam.
This latest defeat follows Thanet Council's decision to abandon its legal challenge to the trade and there's talk of animal exports resuming at Dover. Dover Harbour Board has confirmed that exporters have discussed the issue, though it stresses that no sailings are currently scheduled.
Exports through Dover in the 1990s triggered huge demonstrations and protest leaders expect to be back there soon.
Tonight the RSPCA said it had not given up and was taking fresh legal advice this weekend. Animal exporters were not available for comment about their rumoured interest in using Dover.
The MP for South Thanet, Laura Sandys, is to play a key role in a parliamentary debate on the live animal exports trade today. The Conservative politician wants the trade to be banned, but is expected to call for more stringent welfare rules in the meantime - while the trade continues.
The MP wants tougher inspections on firms which carry out live animal exports, and hopes stricter rules will make it more difficult to unprofitable to export live animals from the UK.
She said: "We aren't yet going to be able to stop the trade, but we might be able to price it out of the market, I would like all exports to be banned, but it is going to be very difficult to get there.".
VIDEO: The protesters were back at the port of Ramsgate at first light this morning - demanding an end to animals' suffering. And, today, the Government stepped in to tighten the rules on live animal exports. Sarah Saunders reports.
VIDEO: Strict new checks on live animal exports are to be implemented at the Port of Ramsgate, the Government has announced. Across the Channel in Strasbourg, the European Union has voted for new rules to reduce the length of time animals can be transported. Sarah Saunders reports.
Members of the European Parliament are to vote on issues surrounding the live export of animals this afternoon.
Among the issues are ideas for improving the welfare of animals when they are being transported long-distance for slaughter, including: an eight-hour limit on journey times; more on-the-spot inspections; and tougher punishment for those who break the current EU rules.
One of the South East's MEPs - Keith Taylor, from the Green Party has been monitoring the situation at the Port of Ramsgate in Kent, which resumed live animal exports earlier this year.
Compassion in World Farming says it has welcomed Thanet District Council’s decision to suspend live animal exports from Ramsgate port.
The port was, until yesterday, the only one in Britain exporting live animals to the continent for slaughter.
The council’s move came just hours after 45 sheep died at the port, the latest and most significant tragedy in the catalogue of problems with live exports from Ramsgate.
Actress and Compassion Patron Joanna Lumley OBE said: “I congratulate Thanet District Council for suspending this appalling trade. My sincere hope is that our Government will follow suit. We control the fate of these unfortunate creatures. Surely they deserve better from us?”
Philip Lymbery, the campaign's CEO, said: “This is hugely welcome, especially given the latest appalling incident at Ramsgate, where over 40 sheep died. We applaud Thanet District Council’s leadership in suspending the cruel and unnecessary live export trade.”
It's believed more than 70,000 animals were exported live through Ramsgate last year after the trade moved from Dover.
The RSPCA is calling for the end to live animal exports from the Port of Ramsgate after 45 sheep died during an inspection of a lorry. It's understood that two men are being questioned by police in relation to vehicle and animal welfare offences.
This trade needs to stop right now. The RSPCA has been warning that a significant welfare incident like this could lead to tragedy for the animals and now it has."