With flags from the United States and United Kingdom behind him, former Gov. Gary Herbert welcomed two speakers from either side of the pond to Utah Valley University Tuesday for a conversation about why they believe limited government is critical for the future.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Liz Truss, former U.K. prime minister, spoke as part of the Gary R. Herbert Institute for Public Policy’s forum series. Truss served as prime minister for about seven weeks in 2022.

“We have two people today that we’re going to be hearing from that care deeply about the well-being of their respective countries and the public service that they’ve rendered is significant,” Herbert said in his introduction.

The ensuing conversation concentrated on where Lee and Truss saw similarities between the U.S. and the U.K. as well as why they think conservatism matters.

The ‘quangocracy’

“I will say I was relieved when I saw armed soldiers carrying the Union Jack, I was glad they were not wearing red coats,” Lee said to audience laughter.

“Too soon?” he quipped to Truss.

Lee said that even though Americans think of themselves as different from their British counterparts, there are similarities between the two governments. “I like to think of the United States as Britain’s greatest invention,” Truss said, noting that ideas about individual liberty and limited government emerged from the U.K. and were borrowed by the U.S.

When Truss got involved in political office, she said she thought she’d be able to put policies in place that people wanted to see. “I discovered that actually a lot of that power had been parceled out.”

Truss said the power was given to what she called the “quangocracy.” Lee said it was one of his favorite words. A quango is a word describing a committee or advisory organization funded by taxpayers, but works independently of the government.

Truss said at first glance, these groups sound like a good idea, but “we now have 500 of these bodies in the United Kingdom.”

Examples of these governments include the environment agency, the post office and the office of budget responsibility. What this practically means, Truss explained, is if a pig farmer came to Truss and said he needed to install something on his property even if he had no environmental infractions, “I couldn’t do anything about it, because the environment agencies make independent decisions.”

“They’re not accountable to politicians, because politicians are perceived to have vested interests that might damage the environment,” Truss said.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, talks about “The Importance of the U.S.-U.K. Bilateral Relationship” during a Gary R. Herbert Institute for Public Policy Forum with former British Prime Minister Liz Truss at Utah Valley University in Orem on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

When Lee asked Truss if these groups had the ability to promulgate rules that had the force of law, Truss said they sometimes did. “The post office was actually able to prosecute people,” Truss said, explaining she did not know they could until she found out about “a recent scandal” where a group of people ended up in a jail.

About the quangocracy, Lee said “We’ve had the same problems in the United States.” He said that agencies make, on average, 100,000 pages of new law each year.

“It’s an active threat to republican democracy, the idea that we outsource to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats, those who were insulated from the political process in the name of giving it to experts,” Lee said, adding “They think that sounds great, but in the end, you end up with a government telling you what to do, but you’re not any longer in control of it.”

What’s next for the U.K. and U.S.?

As for the path forward, Truss said it would be ideal “if we could keep our melody and have elements of the American Constitution.” She added that she didn’t think this was likely. “Unfortunately, the wisdom of the Founding Fathers is not very present in the United Kingdom at the moment.”

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Truss said the critical issue within the U.K. now is that “enlightenment values are under threat. Now I think until we get the values right, it’s difficult to say exactly how we would create a British constitution.” She said Britain is currently in “a constitutional mess” and “what we have to do now is restore the core concept of parliamentary sovereignty, which is what has worked for generations before we saw the expansion of the quangocracy.”

People in the U.K. are becoming frustrated with having a permanent bureaucracy, Truss said, and she believes conservatives have the answer.

“The point I’m making in my book is it’s not enough just to have conservative leadership and conservative policies if you can’t actually deliver because there is such a backlash from the system, from the establishment,” Truss said. “That is why I think we need more systemic change in Britain.”

Lee said the kinds of reforms Truss was describing “ought not to depend on whether you claim left or right, liberal or conservative. If you simply believe in the republican democracy, in the representative government, wouldn’t it be better for everyone to have a legislative body in charge of making national law in your country and in mine, that does the lawmaking and is accountable to the people?”

Even though Truss said there are several issues that still exist in the U.K., she has hope for the future.

“One of the things I’m trying to do is explain what the problem is, so say to people, ‘you know, if you do want things to change in Britain, there’s going to have to be some quite bold change,’” Truss said. “It’s not enough to just will a conservative policy like lower taxes or controlling immigration. We’ve actually got to change the system to deliver that.”