The sighs of relief from Brussels after the French presidential elections were palpable. A major crisis for the European Union was headed off by Emmanuel Macron's victory over Marine Le Pen, but the margin was such that the problem has not gone away for the EU or Macron.

France has elections to its National Assembly or parliament in June and the Le Pen-led resurgence of the right could leave Macron in office but not in power. The threat of France 'doing a Brexit' if Macron had lost has receded, but its relationship with the EU remains uncertain. To counter this Macron will have to focus on issues at home to make France more French and less European. That has implications far beyond Paris in the rural and industrial regions that almost carried Le Pen into power.

Before the election, France used its presidency of the EU to force the issue of food security to the top of the agenda. Hopefully this pressure will not end when France gives up the rotating presidency in June. It is very much the right direction for policy and an approach the UK would do well to copy.

One of Macron's biggest challenges from Le Pen was around the cost of living and that can only get worse. This plays well into French demands for the EU to do more to strengthen Fortress Europe to become less dependent on imports. Ironically, as the CAP prepares to mark its 65 years of existence, Ukraine and the fallout from the Russian invasion has done more than anything else in all those years to strengthen the case for a common agricultural policy.

Fortress Europe was originally about protection from imports that might undermine agriculture. However the risk/reward balance in that equation has changed and the policy direction is now towards the EU becoming more self-reliant in food production. That cannot be a short or even medium term solution, but it is the path the EU is now on. Brexit was about separating the UK from European policies, but farmers have every right now to challenge politicians to justify why separating agriculture from food production is right, while the EU is going in the opposite direction.

Boris Johnson, as the person who led Brexit, needs to acknowledge that just because a policy is forged in the EU does not make it necessarily bad. Brexit was supposed to be about making the UK more fleet of foot and adaptable, but in the food crisis now emerging on supermarket shelves, the UK has been slower than others to respond with radical policy initiatives that would make its food supply more secure.

If France opts to become more nationalistic by stretching EU rules on protectionism this will inevitably rebound on third country imports. It will be free to target the UK, and the more London drives to secure trade deals based around liberal food import rules, the tougher will be French demands for barriers to prevent any leakage into the EU. That will become a new twist in the Fortress Europe saga.

It may not be difficult to accomplish, given reports this week that many small and medium sized UK companies have given up on exporting to the EU, because of the complexity of the rules and the difficulty of meeting these with limited staff resources. This is rooted in the decision by the Johnson government to prioritise sovereignty – ill-defined as it was at the time – over market access. It is sticking to this policy, despite evidence that accepting EU food standards would end the problems around trade in food and the Northern Ireland protocol.

As things stand this is a one way problem in food and agriculture. EU exports to the UK, after an initial post-Brexit dip, recovered long before the end of 2021. In contrast the UK suffered its biggest drop in trade with the EU of any country. Any upside in terms of market protection for farmers also seems set to be snuffed out.

Terrified of being accused of worsening food price increases, the government is yet again said to be planning to drop the imposition of customs checks on EU imports. This was finally due to happen in July, but that looks doubtful. If the government can give way on this supposedly flagship aspect of Brexit, this makes the case for a wider review of food policy in the UK, based around what is happening in the EU thanks to pressure from France.