British Home Secretary Theresa May is taking a tough line on migrants rescued from the Mediterranean, saying they should be forcibly returned.

May, writing in The Times, looks set for a head-on confrontation with Brussels, arguing that a quota obliging European states to take a greater share of migrants would encourage those at the mercy of "evil" people traffickers.

"I disagree with the suggestion by the EU's high representative Federica Mogherini that 'no migrants' intercepted at sea should be 'sent back against their will'," Mrs May argues.

"Such an approach would only act as an increased pull factor across the Mediterranean — and encourage more people to put their lives at risk."

Official figures released on 12 May show that Britain gave asylum to more applicants than 17 other EU states put together last year, prompting the Home Secretary to criticise their failure to do more for those escaping persecution.

According to Eurostat, the EU's statistics authority, Britain gave asylum to 14,065 people, fifth after Germany, Sweden, France and Italy on 20,630. The number of people granted asylum in the EU rose by almost 50% between 2013 and 2014 to 185,000.

Britain's decision to scupper any EU deal on quotas has angered EU officials because they fear that the UK is becoming more isolated in Europe before an in/out referendum by 2017.

"The UK can stay out while others take up their responsibilities. That is not going to help Cameron make friends right now," one diplomat said.

In her article, May - seen by many as a contender for the Tory Party leadership once David Cameron stands down - said that the refugee crisis is "intolerable", but refuses to accept the EU's plans to accommodate those rescued, saying they would "provide new incentives" for economic migrants.

She wrote: "This means, firstly, separating the current essential search and rescue work from the process of gaining permission to stay in the EU. The EU should work to establish safe landing sites in North Africa, underpinned by an active programme of returns. And we should use military, intelligence and crime-fighting assets not only to deliver search and rescue mechanisms, but also to crack down on the traffickers who are putting people at risk.

"We need a vigorous crime-fighting programme to identify and take down the criminal networks which are driving this perilous trade. The UK has already seconded expert staff to Europol, and our National Crime Agency is working closely with its European counterparts. They are drawing together and acting on intelligence to help us beat these callous gangs.

"We must — and will — resist calls for the mandatory relocation or resettlement of migrants across Europe. Such an approach would only strengthen the incentives for criminal gangs to keep plying their evil trade — and reduce the incentive of member states to develop their own effective asylum systems."