Home Secretary Priti Patel has pledged to fix the “fundamentally broken” asylum system in the UK to make it “firm and fair”.
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, she promised to introduce legislation next year for the “biggest overhaul” of the system in “decades”.
And she said those against her plans were “defending the indefensible”.
It comes after it emerged this week that the UK considered sending asylum seekers to an island in the Atlantic.
Ms Patel said changes “would take time” and she would “accelerate the UK’s operational response” to the issue in the meantime.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said Ms Patel’s comments were “more evidence of how lacking in compassion and competence the Tories are”.
Ahead of her speech at the conference, he said: “The British people will see through the home secretary’s shameless comments about a ‘broken system’, when the system has been overseen by the Tories for a decade.”
Ms Patel pledged to introduce a new asylum system that welcomed people through “safe and legal routes” and stopped those arriving illegally “making endless legal claims to remain”.
The system will include expediting the removal of those “who have no claim for protection”, she said.
She added: “After decades of inaction by successive governments, we will address the moral, legal, practical problems with this broken system. Because what exists now is neither firm nor fair.
“I will take every necessary step to fix this broken system amounting to the biggest overhaul of our asylum system in decades.”
The promised overhaul follows record numbers of people making the journey across the English Channel to the UK in September, which Ms Patel has vowed to stop.
According to Refugee Action, 35,566 asylum applications were made in the UK in 2019 – down from a peak of 84,000 in 2002.
At the same time, delays in processing UK asylum applications have increased significantly.
Four out of five applicants in the last three months of 2019 waited six months or more for their cases to be processed.
Ms Patel said the UK would make more “immediate returns” of people who arrived illegally “and break our rules, every single week”.
Pre-empting criticism of her proposals, the home secretary said she expected some would “lecture us on their grand theories about human rights”.
But, she added: “Those defending the broken system – the traffickers, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers, the Labour Party – they are defending the indefensible”.
It comes after it emerged this week that the government had considered building an asylum processing centre on a remote UK territory in the Atlantic Ocean.
Ms Patel asked officials to look at asylum policies which had been successful in other countries, the BBC was told.
Labour said the “ludicrous idea” was “inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive”.
During her speech, the home secretary said the government would “explore all practical measures and options to deter illegal migration”.
She added: “A reformed system will prosecute the criminals and protect the vulnerable. That is what a firm and fair system should look like.”
‘Build back better’
Meanwhile, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has written to his cabinet colleagues calling for “bold and ambitious” bills for the next Queen’s Speech, Downing Street has said.
Number 10 said it wanted to look “beyond” the Covid-19 pandemic and said the prime minister would “not be blown off course” from delivering his manifesto commitments.
In his letter, Mr Rees-Mogg said it would be “important to be ready to make the most of the opportunities” after the transition period with the European Union ends on 31 December.
Priorities for Prime Minister Boris Johnson include tackling crime, controlling the UK’s borders, investing in infrastructure and strengthening public services, Mr Rees-Mogg said.
A No 10 spokesman said: “The prime minister has been clear that we will not be blown off course in our plans to build back better and that’s just what our next Queen’s Speech will do.”