A new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill intends to prevent the weakening of environmental protections the UK leaves the EU, the government has confirmed.

A consultation began on May 10 2018 on the contents of the Environmental Principles and Governance Bill, which will establish a body to hold government to account for environmental outcomes.

The body will support the government's commitment to be the first generation to leave the UK's environment in a better state than that in which it was inherited. It will provide scrutiny and advice on protection and enhancement of landscapes, wildlife and natural assets and would be able to hold government to account on environmental legislation.

Subject to consultation, the new body could specifically be responsible for:

- providing independent scrutiny and advice on existing and future government environmental law and policy;

- responding to complaints about government’s delivery of environmental law

- holding government to account publicly over its delivery of environmental law and exercising enforcement powers where necessary.

The government is also consulting on its intention to require ministers to produce, and then have regard to, a statutory and comprehensive policy statement setting out how they will apply core environmental principles as they develop policy and discharge their responsibilities.

Currently environmental decisions made in the UK are overseen by the European Commission and underpinned by a number of these principles, such as the precautionary principle, sustainable development and the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

While these principles are already central to government environmental policy, they are not set out in one place besides the EU treaties. The new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill will ensure governments continue to have regard to important environmental principles through the policy statement, which would be scrutinised by Parliament. The consultation seeks views on whether or not the principles to be contained in the policy statement should be listed in primary legislation.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: "A new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill will ensure core environmental principles remain central to government policy and decision-making. This will help us to deliver a Green Brexit and the vision set out in our 25 Year Environment Plan.

"But we will only achieve our aims by also creating a strong and objective voice that champions and enforces environmental standards. That’s why our Environmental Principles and Governance Bill will also create an independent and statutory watchdog. This will hold governments to account for delivering their commitments to the natural world."

The consultation, which will run for 12 weeks, seeks views on the most effective way for the new body to hold government to account, which would include, as a minimum, the power to issue advisory notices. The consultation asks what further enforcement mechanisms may be necessary.

The Environmental Principles and Governance Bill will be published in draft in the autumn. Public consultation on the environmental principles policy statement will follow in due course. The Bill will be introduced early in the second session of this Parliament, ensuring these measures are introduced in time for the end of the implementation period in December 2020. EU environmental governance structures will continue to apply during the implementation period.