A 4000-year-old Egyptian statute is to be issued an export licence despite efforts to prevent it from leaving the UK.

The Sekhemka statue was sold controversially by Northhampton Museum for £15.76m at Christie’s in July 2014, fetching a record price for an Egyptian antiquity at auction.

The anonymous foreign buyer applied for an export licence, which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport deferred until July 2015 and then, unusually, extended it to March 29 2016.

But according to a spokeswoman for the department, “after a year under export deferral, no buyer has come forward to purchase the Sekhemka statue” and therefore the export licence will now be issued to the owner.

Northampton Borough Council sold the Sekhemka to raise funds for improving the local museum. But their plans attracted heavy criticism from locals, leading cultural figures and even the Egyptian ambassador.

Northampton Museums Service lost its Arts Council Accreditation, and was barred from membership of the Museums Association for breaching its code of ethics.

A statement on the Save the Sekhemka Action Group website has promised that “we intend constituting ourselves into a new campaign group and return to the fight.”