Leaving the EU will mean live exports of animals will be restricted, Michael Gove said in a speech at the Conservative Party Conference.

This is another part of the government's programme of reform aimed at positioning the UK as a global leader on animal welfare as it leaves the EU.

RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said: "After more than 20 years of campaigning the RSPCA is encouraged to hear Michael Gove’s comments stating his intention to restrict the cruel and unnecessary long journey times of animals going to slaughter from the UK.

"The campaign to end the live export of animals for slaughter or further fattening purposes is one of the RSPCA’s longest running campaigns, and should be consigned to the past.

"We have worked with other animal welfare organisations, not to mention the relentless campaigning from the public who have been responsible for hundreds of thousands of petition signatures and letters to MPs, to call for an end to the live export of animals for slaughter or further fattening purposes. Brexit gives us this opportunity.

"However, until a complete end to this trade is brought about, our inspectors will continue to attend the sailings from the Port of Ramsgate where live exports take place in order to monitor any animals that are involved with this trade."

The environment secretary has also unveiled plans to imprison animal abusers for up to five years. Currently the maximum sentence is six months but the government is bringing forward new legislation that will increase that tenfold, sending a clear signal to any potential offenders that there is no place for animal cruelty in England.

Mr Gove said: "We are a nation of animal lovers and so we must ensure that those who commit the most shocking cruelty towards animals face suitably tough punishments. These plans will give courts the tools they have requested to deal with the most abhorrent acts. This is one part of our plan to deliver world-leading standards of animal welfare in the years ahead."

In September the government announced plans to make CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses.