Environment secretary Michael Gove has launched draft legislation to set up an independent environmental watchdog which will “hold government and public bodies to account” after Brexit.

Under the environment bill, the independent statutory body Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will be created to safeguard environmental standard.

This will include taking on legal powers of enforcement instead of the European Commission.

At the moment, if the UK breaks green laws – like over air pollution for instance – it gets taken to court by the EU. Under the provisions of the draft Environment Bill, the new watchdog will have a similar legal power.

The bill also sets down in the UK some of the key principles of European law – like the polluter pays principle, which establishes who is responsible if the environment is harmed.

The government says European law will remain in place in the UK until the new environment bill is passed, and any law-breaking will be dealt with by the OEP when it opens for business.

The bill will get debated after the scheduled Brexit date of 29 March.

Mr Gove said the draft clauses in the bill placed “our environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government”.

He added: “They set out how we will create a pioneering new system of green governance, placing our 25 Year Environment Plan on a statutory footing. We will explore options for strong targets to improve our environment, and provisions on air quality, waste and water resource management, and restoring nature.

“Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than that in which we found it. We will keep building on our successes by enhancing our environmental standards and delivering a green Brexit.”